A large piece of property in the northwest corner of Maple Ridge, including the former Pelton Reforestation tree nursery, is on a district list for possible removal from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
The prime land, comprising 250 acres on the northeast corner of 203rd Street and 128th Avenue, with access to the Golden Ears Bridge, is one of eight areas Maple Ridge council is eyeing for business or industrial use as it tries to grow its tax base and ease the burden on homeowners.
Council has yet to vote on whether to include the land as part of its long-term jobs strategy.
Removing it from the agricultural reserve could be a controversial issue, Coun. Bob Masse acknowledged Tuesday.
While the property has a lot of attributes, he said, it is in the reserve.
Local environmentalists opposed the application three years ago and former NDP MLA Michael Sather says another application will prompt the same reaction.
“There’s absolutely no reason why the ALC should approve it. They have already turned it down once,” Sather said, adding farmland hasn’t become more plentiful.
With the commission “vehemently” rejecting the application in 2010, he asked how the ALC would justify changing its mind?
The ALC said in its 2010 decision “that the proposal itself was an example of encroaching development into the ALR which … would negatively affect the agricultural suitability of neighbouring properties.”
It disagreed with the premise that it’s justifiable to convert farmland into industrial use “in a prime agricultural area.”
Maple Ridge has already set aside land for employment, the ALC said then, and an exclusion would be an intrusion into the Agricultural Land Reserve and would “erode remaining farmland by fueling speculation and precipitating similar requests from adjacent property owners.”
Coun. Michael Morden said the recommendations came from the consultant’s report, not council.
He favors removing the Pelton land, but “we have to go after some stuff that will generate jobs in the immediate.”
A lot of the other areas being considered “are a lot easier to do than Pelton.”
Chris Rounding, spokesman for the Pelton family, which made the application in 2010, said neither he nor the family are aware the property was again being considered by and wanted to get more information.
“It’s definitely news. I assume it’s just for consideration. I don’t think it necessarily means anything at this point.”
While council votes later on whether to pursue the ALC option, it did consider four other locations for industrial or employment growth at its Monday workshop.
The first location, 28 acres of land on Lougheed Highway, just west of Kanaka Way, could be a possible site for a satellite college or university campus, Masse suggested.
“It seems like a perfect site for university or trade and technical, or some form of post secondary.”
Staff said the district could designate the property institutional, which would preclude housing, and that possible purchasers are being told the current residential use could change.
Masse said later that with the government already owning the land, it could be easier to get provincial support for a college or university.
“That could be a very significant contribution as to how we fund it.”
Most Lower Mainland municipalities have some type of educational institute, he added later.
The property, just west of the Esso gas station, is close to the West Coast Express, bus routes and the downtown, all needed by students.
“It would be a splendid location as far as a view,” Masse said.
Coun. Corisa Bell supported the idea, saying if there isn’t enough land in the downtown for a post-secondary institute, the Lougheed Highway parcel should be considered as an alternative.
Coun. Al Hogarth cast the sole vote against that latter.
“My initial reaction to this is an absolute no,” Hogarth said.
“I think this has great potential for higher density residential,” as set out in the official community plan.
Councillors all favoured considering three other areas for industrial use: a 60-acre parcel at the southwest corner of 128th Avenue and 232nd Street; two chunks of land on the either side of the Kwantlen First Nations reserve on Lougheed Highway and 250th Street; some type of development in the Thornhill urban reserve, east of 248th Street.
Coun. Michael Morden wanted staff time focused on areas that could be quickly made available for industrial-commercial use.
“I’m in favour of jobs, any which way we can make them.”
But chief administrator Jim Rule said Maple Ridge’s goal is to find more land for future business or industrial uses and that it’s important to keep options open.
Maple Ridge has to find an additional 200 acres of industrial land by 2040.
Council discusses the four remaining areas in the new year, after which staff will compile a report on what areas allow for quickest and easiest development.