Land commission rejects district’s plans for Albion flats

Says only east side of 105th Avenue can be developed while western part requires work to improve farming capability

Council submitted scenario calling for development of both sides of 105th Avenue which was rejected by land commission.

Council submitted scenario calling for development of both sides of 105th Avenue which was rejected by land commission.

The Agricultural Land Commission has cut in half Maple Ridge’s commercial-industrial and recreational plans for Albion flats, saying the district can only develop on the east side of 105th Avenue, the road that bisects the fields along Lougheed Highway.

Mayor Ernie Daykin made the announcement Monday night during the new council’s swearing in ceremony.

Maple Ridge earlier this year had sent in a draft version of its plans for the area calling for development of most of the flats, most of which lies within the Agricultural Land Reserve. The district will use the ALC’s feedback to as a base for a formal application to withdraw land from the reserve, a necessary step before development.

Even the suggestion that it supported development of the east side came with the condition that work be done to restore the agricultural capability of the land to the west of 105th Ave. The property has poor drainage.

Daykin said it’s still possible to develop on the east side, where there are 100 acres, noting there are 500,000 sq. feet of commercial space on that side of the road and adding that Meadowtown Centre in Pitt Meadows is about 400,000 sq. feet.

“They said they will look at commercial use, industrial use … when it comes out, we can do whatever we want there.”

Mall developer SmartCentres has one portion of the east side, but has more property on the west side of 105th Ave., which the commission says must remain in the land reserve.

Smart Centres vice-president Sandra Kaiser said the company was disappointed by the ALC comments.

“Once we have had the opportunity to read first-hand the correspondence from the ALC, we will have a better understanding of what our options might be.”

Daykin said there are six or seven large pieces of property on the east side of 105th Avenue and said Tuesday  that ALC’s comments “have a huge impact on property owners everywhere in Albion. Council will take the time to review the full report from the ALC and share this information with property owners so that this project can move forward as quickly as possible,” he added.

“Council and staff will make a detailed review of the ALC’s response, and reach out to land owners so that this matter can progress in the coming weeks,” he added Tuesday in a news release.

After the inaugural meeting, Daykin said the commission’s decision “gives us something in the new year to work towards.” A half a million square feet of property is nothing to sneeze at, he said.

“At least we got something to put our teeth into.” Once staff review that in January, council can look at its options.

“The folks on the other side, I guess they can do what they want to do, right,” Daykin said.

Former councillor Craig Speirs said the ALC did exactly what it said it would do previously. The commission said several years ago it would only entertain exclusions east of 105th Ave.

“We could have saved so much time and money, more importantly, legislative time. We wasted three years screwing around with the ALR,” Speirs said.

“We could have gone with a plan right away, but we screwed around for three years and it put us way behind.

“I hate to say I told you so, but I will. So it’s got to be pointed out.”

Speirs, defeated in the Nov. 19 election, said last February, when council opted for the development option, that it would be rejected.

“The Agricultural Land Commission is going to laugh in your face and they are going to say, ‘What are you thinking?’

The ALC advice aligns with the first options that arose from community meetings in 2010, suggesting there be minimal development on the west side. Council, though, held another meeting where business groups were represented and decided to submit a plan calling for development of the majority of the flats.

The consultant later suggested all four options for varying degrees of development should be sent to the ALC.

Coun. Mike Morden said the draft plan was a process that was required to go through, “My feeling, it’s a predictable result.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen next.” The land owners will have to decide what parts they’ll do and the district will submit an application for the east side.

“We’ve got other work to do now,” such as concentrating on jobs and its industrial and commercial land inventory.

However, Leslie Sofarelli, with the group Residents for Smart Shopping, said Maple Ridge should review its residential growth plans and submit a formal exclusion application for all of Albion flats, based on that growth. Developing the east side only won’t be enough.

That should be the new council’s first priority, she said Tuesday. The application also would include preservation of farmland elsewhere in return for building on the west side of 105th Avenue.

“The Albion location [for farming’ is just not the location. Everybody knows that. It’s turned into a wasteland.”

Maple Ridge needs to take responsibility for the residential growth that it has allowed by creating services, she added.

Former candidate Christian Cowley, with the CEED Centre, was pleased but not surprised at the comments. The decision reduces the speculation pressures on farmland that will be needed as climate change makes farming more difficult.

“The most important point is this is farmland for the future, as well as today. That’s what the Agricultural Land Reserve is all about.”

Farmland may not be needed now, but in the future “we might find we need every square inch.”

He called the soil on the west side “incredibly fertile,” and said three crops of hay a year are produced. But the soil is affected by water runoff in the suburbs above.

Cowley said he wouldn’t oppose mid-scale commercial growth on the east side of 105th Ave., and noted it’s closer to the homes nearby and that Bruce’s Country Market could serve as a commercial anchor.

But he wanted council to focus on developing and improving the south side of Lougheed Highway, almost  micromanaging it for several uses, while maintaining its industrial capability.

The area near the former Albion ferries could hold be a future stop for the West Coast Express and the area could develop a New Westminster Quay feel, he added.

Daykin, in his statement, said having the ALC review the plan saved thousands of dollars. “Instead, we have received a thoughtful and clear response. We can now move forward with greater certainty and clarity.”

The ALC has done its job, now council will do its, he said.

Farmer John Wynnyk, who owns property on the west side, didn’t want to comment on the ALC’s decision, asking only, “How the hell do you drain uphill?”