Maple Ridge council approves wildfire housing regs

Setback from forests required for homes on greenbelt

Maple Ridge council approved a set of guidelines last week to protect new homes from wildfires.

But the same divisions on the topic that previously split council endured at the Oct. 28 meeting, which saw the guidelines passed by a vote.

Wildfire development permit areas would require new homes that are built next to the forest to use fire-resistent exterior materials, fire resistent roofs and fire-smart landscaping.

Ten-metre buffer areas will also be required to separate new suburbs from forests.

Mayor Ernie Daykin supported the measure, saying the city could be liable if homes burned and the city didn’t implement the measures, although it knew of the potential danger.

“For me, once we know we have the liability and if you don’t mitigate the risk, then I think you would be on the hook.”

Couns. Al Hogarth, Mike Morden and Corisa Bell opposed the guidelines, saying they will add to the cost of houses.

Hogarth wanted to combine the wildfire rules with the environmentally sensitive area strategy that council considers this week.

An ESA management strategy was proposed in 2008, but council has yet to accept that.

“This goes against housing affordability, adds more costs,” said Morden.

“I still feel this is another incremental charge that we’re bringing forward,” Hogarth added.

The permit areas are the final step after the approval of the Wildfire Protection Plan in 2007.

Daykin said later that councillors have been regularly contacted by residents who live in Thornhill, seeking to bring Metro Vancouver water to the rural area east of 248th Street as a means of reducing the threat by having fire hydrants available.

But council heard it would cost $40 million to bring Metro Vancouver water to Thornhill.

“I think council’s job is to look at the whole municipality,” Daykin said.

Staff told council that a suburb fitted with fire hydrants couldn’t withstand a forest fire any better than one without.

“If you’ve got a wildfire, it may be part of the defence, but it’s not going to stop it.”

If council decided to extend water service to Thornhill, it would have to justify that expense to people in other parts of Maple Ridge, said Coun. Cheryl Ashlie.

“If you want to bump that forward for a non-active area, ahead of Silver Valley, that is waiting for the 240th Street bridge, I would be challenged, as elected officials, to make that case to your public in Silver Valley.”

Having a municipal water system in Thornhill would also increase the development potential and property values.

Maple Ridge’s official community plan calls for suburban expansion to Thornhill, after Maple Ridge’s population hits 100,000.

A second accompanying bylaw also was passed, although Hogarth asked for a deferral.

City planner Lisa Zosiak said later that a sprinkler system on the walls of homes that face forests  could be a possibly cheaper alternative to using fire-resistant external wall coverings such as Hardie board siding. A maximum cost for protecting a house that sat on the edge of the forest would be about $2,500. However, the house would have a higher value because it sits on the green belt.

Another option is to use non-combustible plywood on the outside walls, allowing the use of vinyl siding over top.

The requirement for 10-metre setbacks from the forest can include someone’s back yard as well as trails or utility corridors.

However, no setback would be required if it’s known that an area that’s currently forest will be developed in the future.

Daykin said if a 50-home subdivision is proposed and only five directly face the forest, the wildfire permit requirements only would apply to the five homes.

Cost of developing suburbs also came up in the discussion.

Ashlie asked if Maple Ridge suburbs cost more to service and maintain than they raise in property taxes.

“The funds we collect from raw residential taxes is not enough to cover off the cost that we have to pay for it downstream,” said finance general manager Paul Gill.

As the city builds and develops, it’s the “collective taxpayer that maintains that,” Ashlie said.

“So in reality, we are continually asking the taxpayer to support different initiatives.”

She wanted to consider some type of assistance for builders incurring wildfire permit area costs.

Daykin though said people want housing options, including suburban living.

“People want to live on bigger lots in an area where they’re not on top of each other.”

But he said he agrees that pot of tax money isn’t bottomless. “We need to look at how we develop out – and I don’t have a problem with that.”

Coun. Bob Masse though along with Cheryl Ashlie, Judy Dueck and Ernie Daykin voted for the wildfire permit area.

Overall, the extra cost for each new home built near the forest should be about $5,000.

The wildfire development permit area derives from Maple Ridge’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan created in 2007. That plan came from the Firestorm 2003 report written by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon in the wake of the devastating wildfire that tore through Kelowna that year.