Mayoral candidates spar over Albion flats

Give suburbs some attention, says challenger. Maple Ridge mayoral debate.

Slow down development along 240th Street in Albion so school capacity can keep up, slow down traffic along Kanaka Way,  there are no playgrounds in Albion or Maple Crest, what about a sidewalk along 104th Avenue to Samuel Robertson Technical School?

Pay more attention to the people in the suburbs, says Craig Ruthven.

“Suburbs are a reality – with real people, not a concept – incumbents,” said the candidate for the mayor’s chair in Maple Ridge.

“I’m going to encourage the culture of thoughtfulness when it comes to development.”

Maybe developers can be encouraged to build something more creative than just a swath of housing, Ruthven told a crowd in the Arts Centre Theatre.

Ruthven and Mayor Ernie Daykin traded debating points and principles Monday in the only mayors’-only event of the campaign leading to the Nov. 19 vote that will decide who runs the District of Maple Ridge.

“Maple Ridge is caught in a war of visions. People see Maple Ridge differently,” said Ruthven, in his first municipal campaign.

Suburbs need more amenities, and the planning department could improve its efficiency, though many in the department are good at what they do, he added.

If, as mayor, he could improve the efficiency of the planning department, that would be an “incredible service” for the community, although he said the planning department has many competent, diligent and friendly staff.

“And [manager of community planning]) Christine Carter is gorgeous. Has anyone seen her before? She’s really intelligent and her eyes – are just incredible.

“I’m a single guy,” he added.

Daykin defended his last three years before the crowd, which included many candidates for council.

“The big thing I like about Maple Ridge is its sense of community, its friendliness.”

He pointed out that since January more than $22 million in construction projects has been announced for the downtown core. And as of Monday, there are plans for complete redevelopment of the block between 224th and 223rd streets on Dewdney Trunk Road.

“That’s proof that there is investment value in Maple Ridge and people are bullish on Maple Ridge.”

He listed Jackson Farm on 102nd Avenue, now saved for parkland, the district’s purchase of three acres on Selkirk Avenue at 227th Street so it can hold the property for the development it wants, the renovation of Haney Place Mall and arrival of Thrifty Foods as achievements of the past three years.

Plus, in the next three years there will be a high-quality plan for developing the Albion flats, while troublesome Northumberland Court on Fraser Street was demolished last week.

West Coast Express commuter rail had seven new cars added, as well, allowing the extension of the trains and relieving the cramping for commuters.

TransLink is now studying whether to expand the frequency of the runs, beyond the five rush-hour trains at either end of the day.

“We need to push for expansion and enhanced service,” Daykin said.

“That’s the next goal.”

A questioner, though, wanted to know what role Maple Ridge played in the extra rail cars being added.

Daykin said he and two previous mayors constantly pressed TransLink for that.

And he agreed, there probably wouldn’t be any rail expansion within three years.

Another questioner asked why council voted for a 13-per-cent salary increase (over three years).

Daykin said the recommendation was made based on a comparison of cities.

As a former retailer in the home renovation business, Daykin said he’s seen the challenges of development from both sides.

“Respect, respect and relationships are key to achieving those goals and results,” he said.

“I strongly believe that Maple Ridge is on the cusp of great things. It really is time for Maple Ridge to shine.”

John Mckenzie, a council candidate, asked why property taxes climb four per cent every year and wanted to know how much debt the district had?

Daykin didn’t know the latter, but said the four-per-cent tax increase, comprised of three per cent for growth and services with one per cent going into an infrastructure fund.

But increasing taxes aren’t a result of debt, he added.

The district needs diverse revenue sources, Ruthven countered.

Daykin also pointed out Maple Ridge’s success in real estate.

For 2010-2015, the Real Estate Investment Network named the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows area the second best (after Surrey) for real estate investment.

Ruthven accused the current mayor and council of designing the consultation process over the Albion flats in 2010 to fail. He said planning staff were opposed to the concept of development in Albion flats, while it was running a consultation exercise on development plans for the area. Why did it take nine years before council submitted a development plan to the Agricultural Land Commission, he asked.

“You read me terribly wrong if you think I would set something up to fail,” Daykin replied.

He said the consultation followed that used for the downtown plan, with 33 groups invited. Business representation skipped the first session, so council held an extra session, which led to the plan that calls for development of most of the flats.

Daykin said council has never received a development application for the area.

“Something is going to happen in Albion flats.”

One questioner who lived in the Albion area said people are desperate and are moving out because of a lack of sidewalks and playgrounds, cramped roads and schools, leading to a drop house prices. She said nine homes were up for sale in her area.

Mission and Pitt Meadows are both getting a Wal-Mart, she added. “We have to move on it now – not 10 years.”

After the debate, council candidate Graham Mowatt was handing out pamphlets for Ruthven, who said later he may endorse some candidates running for council.

School trustee Mike Huber wondered how Ruthven would work as mayor. Ruthven responded to by pointing to his success in managing landscaping on his strata council, saying he was “wildly creative” in that role.