Maple Ridge is considering funding the construction of a sewer line to North Albion to spur development in the area.
If council gives the project the go-ahead, it will be a first for the district and a change in direction for the municipality, where new infrastructure to service housing developments has traditionally been built by the developers themselves.
Under the traditional approach, the municipality “inherits” the infrastructure and is then responsible for operating, maintaining and ultimately replacing it.
That approach has worked well for the southern part of Albion but presents challenges as developments head north to a terrain laced with creeks and gullies.
The areas suitable for development in the northern flats are also far apart and the lands are currently owned individually.
Depending on the route the sewer line takes, the costs of the construction range from $4 to $4.5 million.
“The land is very choppy and that makes development difficult,” explained Chuck Goddard, the district’s manager of development and environmental services.
The North Albion neighbourhood, located off 240th Street bordered by Kanaka Creek and 112th Avenue, already has a water connection.
If the district decides to pay for a sewer, it can recoup costs through development cost charges or by using a section of the Local Government Act (Section 937) to enter into a works and service agreement with properties.
But both routes have no guarantees that Maple Ridge will collect every penny spent or when the district would be paid in full. Under provincial rules, late comer agreements only last for 10 years, so if developers wait to build, they could get a sewer line without contributing a cent towards its construction.
Goddard said there is no money allocated for servicing North Albion in the district’s long-term plan at present.
“Those are fairly big costs for us and we haven’t accounted for anything now, so we would have to take that money from somewhere else,” Goddard added.
“The time of the return is also unknown. It could be two years, it could be 10 years or at some point, we may not get a return on it at all. It is a bit of a risk. Council is going to have to weigh those decision but there are some alternatives. It just depends on how badly council wants that area developed.”
Developers are keen to start building in North Albion and two – Wayne Bissky Architects and Epic Homes – have already submitted plans to the district for projects pitching single family homes.
Both developments want more density on their sites or lots sizes smaller than those anticipated in the current Albion Area Plan and are located at the eastern edge of the flats, farthest away from existing sewer lines.
Epic Homes donated $250 each to Couns. Al Hogarth and Judy Dueck during the 2008 civic election campaign, as well as $500 to Mayor Ernie Daykin.
But all three say those donations won’t influence how they eventually will vote.
Hogarth supports the district funding sewer construction, mainly for the “efficiencies” in that approach rather than leaving individual developers to figure out a complicated waste removal system that will run under Kanaka Creek and could require up to six pumps.
“At the end of the day, those services … are given to the district and we run the maintenance program on them,” said Hogarth.
“There are some efficiencies that can be gained and some long-term savings to the district [by paying for costs upfront]. The district relies on growth in the way we lay our budgets. If you chopped out a major growth area, what are you prepared to cut out of the budget?”
Dueck hasn’t made up her mind yet but is afraid funding construction of a sewer line to North Albion could set a precedent.
“I see the merits in some aspect,” said Dueck.
“But it also means a change to the OCP.
“It’s a huge decision because it certainly could mean other areas will go: you did it there, so why don’t you do it here?”
Daykin supports taxpayers funding the sewer line construction – only if there are guarantees to recover costs.
“I don’t think we should go on a program that could put the district at risk,” he said.
“We knew this was going to happen at some point because there were servicing limitations out there.”
Coun. Craig Speirs however dislikes the district even entertaining the idea of paying for construction and prefers development to push from west to east, instead of springing up in isolated pockets far from amenities.
“It’s a gamble,” Speirs said. “If it’s that important in the next step of developing Maple Ridge, the developers should come up with a plan to finance it themselves.”
“Do nothing is an option.
“There is nothing wrong with that.”