The possible land swap between mall developer SmartCentres and the City of Maple Ridge is dead.
After reaching a draft deal in September, the developer decided Dec. 22 it didn’t like the numbers. The “financials simply did not work for SmartCentres as certain components were more costly than originally estimated,” vice-president Sandra Kaiser said in a release Tuesday.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going away.”
The company will look at other options for the land on the east side of 105th Avenue and Lougheed Highway, south of Planet Ice, which has tacit approval for removal from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Mayor Nicole Read said during the November election campaign that it’s not certain if a mall would work in the Albion flats area, nor if the impact on the downtown was fully understood.
“I think the deal had to have been very weak on their side, if my comments at election impacted their deal,” she said Tuesday.
She doubted that the election of a new council killed the deal given that so many components had been in place.
She added said the company never called her or other members of the new council and just sent the letter to staff Dec. 22 announcing they’d backed out.
“I don’t see how changing council could actually have impact on the deal,” where many decisions had already been made.
“I can totally appreciate the residents of Maple Ridge will be disappointed.”
She was surprised about the decision, but added: “It changes nothing because economic development is a big commitment for us.”
Albion flats still needs shopping and commercial development.
“This makes us all the more motivated to get something into place,” she said. “I think we recognize that there is definitely value in having shopping Albion.”
But, she added, downtown also needs development.
What form that now will take could rest on a staff report that will lay out options for the area. The report will deal with the land exclusion application to the ALC for the land on the east side of 105th Avenue.
Maple Ridge council has been trying to find a way to develop Albion flats, the area along Lougheed Highway, bisected by 105th Ave., for the past 10 years.
In 2012, Smart Centres made an offer to swap its 19 acres on the west side of 105th Ave., which has to remain in the agricultural reserve, in exchange for 13 acres of city land on the east side of 105th Ave., comprising the Albion fairgrounds.
Moving the fairgrounds to the west side of 105th Ave., improving drainage and $900,000 cash were part of the deal.
Read said staff put a lot of attention and time into the negotiations. She said she liked parts of the swap, particularly the moving of Albion fairgrounds and construction of new buildings to the west side of 105th Ave.
But she was concerned that the public might not like the type of development that resulted.
Sandra Kaiser, with SmartCentres, said the company couldn’t proceed because “certain components were most costly than originally estimated.
“SmartCentres is very committed to Maple Ridge and extremely interested in exploring with council and staff what other options may exist for development in the Albion flats, in light of past ALC direction and council initiatives.”
Former mayor Ernie Daykin said the draft land exchange had been reached last September.
“I thought we had a deal.”
While Smart Centres was willing to pay $900,000 in cash in order to swap undevelopable land for developable land, the cost to the developer could have been 10 times that with all the improvements required, Daykin said.
He said the city was only waiting for SmartCentre’s board of directors to approve the deal.
“We knew this was going to be examined 15 different ways,” as to whether it was a good arrangement for Maple Ridge taxpayers.
He said SmartCentres still owns about five acres on the east side of 105th Ave.
Daykin said previously that SmartCentres had paid for the legal costs involved in the negotiations.