Dave Major

Dave Major

North Lougheed mall developer to work past roadblock

SmartCentres disappointed by stall as split Pitt Meadows council brings development plans to a halt

A land developer whose owns property in the North Lougheed corridor is disappointed that Pitt Meadows’ plans for the area have hit a roadblock.

At a meeting Sept. 16, council failed to give first and second reading to a bylaw that would allow the city to amend its official community plan.

The 3-3 split also meant the city can’t amend its regional context statement, a requirement for any land use changes by Metro Vancouver.

“It will put the North Lougheed on hold for an undetermined amount of time,” chief administrative officer Kim Grout said before council voted.

The city envisions a mixed-employment and highway commercial development for the 50-hectare area, zoning that includes everything from a business hotel with meeting facilities, offices, as well as more shopping with big-box anchor stores.

SmartCentres, which owns a large chunk of land in the corridor and bills itself as Canada’s largest developer and operator of “unenclosed shopping centres,” claims the development would bring 600,000 square feet of new retail commercial space and two million square feet of mixed employment uses to the city.

“Naturally, we are disappointed that the planning process has not progressed as quickly as we would have liked, particularly in light of recent decisions made by the ALC and Metro Vancouver on the North Lougheed corridor,” said Sandra Kaiser, vice-president of corporate affairs with SmartCentres.

The company also owns land in the Albion Flats of Maple Ridge.

SmartCentres is not going to abandon its plans for development, however.

“We will continue to work with staff to push this project forward as we are very committed to having a presence in the Pitt Meadows community,” said Kaiser.

In rejecting development for the entire 50-hectare area, Coun. Janis Elkerton reminded her colleagues that a similar tax windfall was promised when Meadowtown Centre was developed.

“We were told it would be the panacea for our problems with taxation,” said Elkerton. “You can see the mall opening did not decrease your taxes.”

The city receives around $1.4 million annually from Meadowtown Centre.

Coun. Dave Murray pointed out that the number of jobs promised has differed widely. SmartCentres claims the development would generate up to 1,200 retail jobs and 9,000 office and industrial jobs. Another study projects 6,000 jobs.

“What kind of jobs are these going to be,” asked Murray. “A lot of residents don’t realize these big box stores don’t pay high taxes. We are better off with other businesses that will bring in more taxes. Once that concrete goes down, that land is gone and it’s not coming back for 100 years.”

Murray’s colleagues were upset that he, Elkerton and Bruce Bell were not supportive of the North Lougheed commercial plan.

The city hopes spurring development along the strip will fund the construction of the North Lougheed Connector, a 3.6-kilometre road that would eventually connect to an interchange at Harris Road and Lougheed Highway.

Elkerton does not want taxpayers to foot the bill for the connector, which is expected to cost $17.5 million just to construct. A transportation plan estimates the city will have to contribute at least $6 million for the connector.

Add on an interchange at Harris and Lougheed and the city’s portion of the $52-million project balloons to $18.5 million.

“What did you think was going to happen when we lost one of the councillors,” Elkerton said at the meeting.

Coun. Doug Bing resigned in January to focus on his new role as the B.C. Liberal MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

“Did you think we were just going to salute and put our municipality in financial jeopardy? It just boggles my mind,” Elkerton said.

Coun. Tracy Miyashita, who has been supportive of development the North Lougheed corridor from the start, believes any development is better than nothing.

“I think any kind of jobs in our community is a good thing,” she said.

“We need that for our residents so they don’t have to commute. It will provide relief on Old Dewdney to support the farming community. This is a solution to residential taxes. I’m saying yes to more jobs and yes to lower taxes and yes to helping our farmers and yes to improving traffic flow.”

City staff say since the resolutions to move the North Lougheed process forward were defeated last week, things remain on hold.

Director of operations Cory Day said it is too early for staff to begin planning for traffic calming on Old Dewdney Trunk, one of the conditions for removing the land from the provincial protected Agricultural Land Reserve.

“Council can restart the process at any time,” said Day.

As for Metro Vancouver, Day explained the regional growth amendment will just sit. Day doesn’t know how long the city is allowed to keep the process in limbo.

“If eons go by, sooner or later someone at Metro is going to clean out the house and wonder why this didn’t move forward?,” he added.

“We don’t have time frames.”