Maple Ridge council gave initial approval Tuesday to building 26 homes near the South Alouette River over protests from the group that manages the waterway.
Council voted 4-3 to give third reading, to be followed by final adoption, to rezoning four properties at 12555, 12599, 12516 – 240th street and at 12511 – 241st St.
Total area of the properties is 20 acres, with most of that in the flood plain.
Mayor Michael Morden and Couns. Chelsa Meadus, Judy Dueck and Ryan Svendsen voted in favour, while Couns. Gordy Robson, Kiersten Duncan and Ahmed Yousef voted against.
“There will be houses on the river,” said Morden. “There have been many built there before.”
The Alouette River Management Society, along with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and city staff will monitor the project, the mayor added.
“ARMS will be there every step of the way, I know that. So will the DFO, so will our staff from our environmental section.”
Many bridges already cross the river and were built with lesser standards, Morden said.
Planning director Christine Carter said that final approval of the project by Fisheries and Oceans Canada is needed before it gets fourth and final reading.
Fisheries has inspected the site and, “No red flags have been raised,” Carter added.
The city allows development in the flood plain, providing the property is brought up to a safe standard, Carter added.
“Maple Ridge has a very large number of properties that are in the flood plain,” such as lower Hammond, Albion Industrial Area, and Ruskin.
But properties in the flood plain need a covenant registered on the land title, stating that it’s in the flood plain, while buildings are not allowed to have living quarters below the flood construction level.
The project also complies with the city’s environmental development permits and stream-side protection regulations, which require setbacks from streams.
A staff report says the project would be integrated with site preparations for a new bridge planned for the 240th Street crossing.
Meadus said she listened to the public’s concerns, “and I don’t feel that this development was going to impact people’s ability to enjoy the river and that was a big piece for me.”
A three-hour public hearing took place last week on the project, with most speakers in opposition.
The Alouette River Management Society opposes the project and is concerned about effects on wildlife and stormwater runoff from roads and houses into the river.
Coun. Kiersten Duncan was worried about possible future flooding.
“I would hate for someone to move in there, just to have it flood shortly after.”
Before the vote, Coun. Gordy Robson said if the project was defeated, that the city should buy the property for conservation purposes. He added that the city is obliged to think 20 years ahead.
Robson voted against the rezoning, citing the possible risks of floods and referring to a storm in 2006, when the power was out which kept the gate closed on the tunnel that drains the Alouette Lake reservoir to Stave Lake. Without being able to open the gate, the Alouette Lake level rose and almost came over the dam, Robson added later.
“I can’t support this kind of density this close to the river,” Robson said.
ARMS president and former city councillor Cheryl Ashlie was disappointed in council’s decision.
She said after the meeting that just because it’s possible to allow development along the river doesn’t mean it should happen, and that the city should to change density bonusing rules to prohibit higher densities along the Alouette.
Ashlie fears that council’s decision will lead to more development along the river, rather than protecting the watershed.
“Council has just opened that up for no reason,” she said.
“I’m sad more than anything. In 15 years, I’ve never been this disappointed. I don’t get it.”