Maple Ridge council voted 4-3 to give final approval to a contentious riverfront subdivision on Tuesday evening, over the opposition from the Alouette River Management Society, the Katzie First Nation and numerous members of the public who spoke against the development for environmental reasons.
Council voted to amend the official community plan to allow 26 houses on lots at 12555, 12599 and 12516 240th St. and 12511 241 St.
Staff spoke extensively about the plan, and were not swayed by members of the conservation group or members of the public who said the development will harm the river, salmon and wildlife.
“Nothing that we heard at public hearing, from a staff perspective, has changed our position in terms of the recommendation,” said CAO Al Horsman.
Coun. Kiersten Duncan asked her council colleagues who accepted financial contributions from the developer or other parties with an interest in the development to bow out of the decision. She noted members of the public had accused them of a conflict of interest. None of the councillors did recuse themselves from the vote, nor were those who have received election donations identified.
“Even if you feel you’re not influenced by it, it doesn’t look good, and the most appropriate thing to do in this situation, is to just fully recuse yourself from the conversation,” urged Duncan.
Mayor Michael Morden asked the city lawyer to address her comments, and council was told “the mere knowledge of a campaign contribution does not establish a pecuniary interest.”
Duncan said the development “will have a very significant enviromental impact on our community, and if we go through with this it’s also going to be precedent setting, and it’s going to tell the community we are going to continue to support other developments like this going outside the urban area boundary and continuing with sprawl and larger scale developments, and that’s something that directly contradicts the OCP.”
She also noted the Katzie First Nation was not consulted, and the city owes them an apology.
“I was adamant every single time this item came up before council that we consult the Katzie, and I was told by staff that would happen,” she said. “And at the public hearing we heard from staff who said they did not have to consult with Katzie.”
She added she was “absolutely stunned by the way Katzie and ARMS have been treated in this process.”
City environmental planner Rod Stott said approximately 62 per cent of the 20-acre site has been set aside for conservation purposes, and that includes areas along the river. The setback from the top of the river bank is further than the 30 meters required by senior governments for flood plains, and provides a wide corridor for wildlife, he said.
Staff’s position was the city was not legally required to consult with First Nations about the subdivision.
Director of planning Chuck Goddard told council only about 16 lots would be allowed on the site without density bonusing. In exchange for the density bonus, the city gets a three-acre dedicated riverfront park, improvements to road, sewer and water networks, the placement of fill for future, and 62 per cent of the site preserved in a “green, natural state.
Coun. Ryan Svendsen said he was choosing “to believe staff’s reports and recommendations for support.”
Coun. Judy Dueck agreed staff had addressed all questions that were raised.
Councillors Duncan, Ahmed Yousef and Gordy Robson voted against the plan.
“Recognising how sacred the Alouette River is, from both a heritage standpoint and an environmental standpoint, I continue as I have since my election, to be opposed to this application,” said Yousef, and added a bridge should be designed, if not built, before the application goes forward.
Robson said the issue may be decided by senior government.
“There are lots of hurdles left for this development, past the city council,” said Robson. “I do believe in democracy, and the ultimate decision maker will be the citizens in the next election.”
Mayor Michael Morden noted the bridge through the subdivision – which is not being built as part of the application – will provide alternate access to hundreds of thousands of vehicles that go to Golden Ears Provincial Park each year.
“I’ve never been around a heavier traffic zone, other than being in downtown Vancouver, than on Fern Crescent,” said Morden. “This is a way forward to provide some relief to that incredibly stressed piece of roadway, I support it merely on that alone.”
Morden noted that qualified environmental professionals, including “passionate advocates” and conservation groups that have spoken out about this, will ensure salmon and the river are protected.
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