Maple Ridge to start talking swap with Smart Centres

District’s administrator will report soon to council on how long working out such a deal would take.

Maple Ridge council has told its staff to start talking to Smart Centres to see if there’s a way to work out a land swap in Albion flats.

Council had a lot of questions at its Tuesday meeting, when Smart Centres made a presentation, but settled on just directing staff to start the process, said Mayor Ernie Daykin Thursday.

“We showed remarkable restraint, all seven of us.”

Smart Centre wants to exchange the 20 acres it owns west of 105th Avenue along the Lougheed Highway – and which lie in the Agricultural Land Reserve – with the district’s 17 acres on the east side of 105th Avenue, currently the site of the Albion Fairgrounds.

Daykin said the district’s administrator will report soon to council on how long working out such a deal would take.

Any proposal for either the west or east side still needs the OK of the Agricultural Land Commission.

“To be honest, it’s a little bit frustrating … but whatever we do down there, it’s going to have a footprint on the community for the next 30, 40, 50 years,” Daykin said.

Smart Centres’ offer comes after the Agricultural Land Commission said earlier this year that it opposes land exclusion and development of the west side of 105th Ave., including Smart Centres properties, but would consider that for the east side.

Daykin said it’s not up to the district to cover any losses the company takes as a result of not being able to develop its land, he added.

“They are thinking outside the box and we will have to be creative to make it work,” Daykin said.

If approved, the deal would allow the company to combine its existing 10 acres with the additional 17 acres from the fairgrounds, for development into a shopping centre.

It also would mean relocating Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Country Fest, the farm fair that’s been taking place in Maple Ridge for more than a century.

But Daykin hasn’t yet heard from the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Agricultural Association, the Ridge Meadows Home Show or the air cadets, which all use the fairgrounds.

He pointed out the fair already has moved once, from its location in what’s now Memorial Peace Park, to its present on location on the site of the former Spencer dairy farm.

Lorraine Bates of the agricultural association said the group hasn’t commented because there are no details yet.

She said the agricultural fair society’s directors discussed it last week, and no one was strongly opposed to relocating to the other side of 105th Avenue.

The district owns the land and could the move fair anywhere, she pointed out.

“At the end of the day, it’s the district’s decision.”

She noted that Smart Centres aerial map used in the presentation didn’t show the Planet Ice arena or the equestrian arena, which are both used during Country Fest, which takes place this July 28 and 29.

If the fair moved across 105th, access to those areas would be more difficult.

Bates has previously been involved with another relocation of an agricultural fair, in 2001, when the Chilliwack Exhibition moved from central Chilliwack to a new building in Heritage Park, on Highway 1.

“That was a great move. It doubled their attendance,” although numbers have since declined, she added.

One challenge in Albion is Spencer Creek, which runs through the fairgrounds property. Current municipal rules require any development to be set back either 15 or 30 metres from streams.

But those setbacks would also apply to any new buildings on the east side, where shopping is proposed, she pointed out.

Bates said at 111 years of age, the agricultural association is the oldest heritage group in the area and said she is confident the district wouldn’t do anything to hurt the organization.

“I trust them on that.”

Daykin said, if approved, the shopping centre could be the start of a commercial and light industrial development along Lougheed Highway, from east of 105th Avenue to 240th Street.

Meanwhile, the exclusion application to remove Steve and John Wynnyk’s adjoining 40 acres from the reserve has been filed with the district.

“They have gone from working together to working separately. It will be interesting to see what’s in the application to make it a net benefit to agriculture,” said Daykin.