As he leaves city hall, Coun. Gordy Robson talks about development charges and an infrastructure deficit the next council must address. (Special to The News)

As he leaves city hall, Coun. Gordy Robson talks about development charges and an infrastructure deficit the next council must address. (Special to The News)

Outgoing councillor says Maple Ridge behind on infrastructure

Former mayor Gordy Robson said next council must tackle issue, charge developers

Running away with the carnival apparently prepared Gordy Robson for his career in Maple Ridge politics.

He served a term as mayor from 2005 to 2008, and then two more as councillor starting in 2014 until this year. As the businessman walks away from city hall, he offers his views of where the city is at, and where it’s going.

He’s got a unique perspective. Robson grew up in Maple Ridge, but at age of 15 he left town with a carnival, following it to the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. Apparently the experience gave him a good education in business.

When he returned home in 1968, Robson bought businesses including a taxi company, a tax preparation company and a garbage collection enterprise.

He put the “busy” in business. Robson drove cab through sleepless nights, but didn’t care for the shifts on the back of a garbage truck when he had to cover for sick workers.

“It made you humble,” he recalled.

The humble businessman funnelled his money into properties. Houses were selling for $1,500 apiece at the time, and Robson would work around the clock until he could afford his next one. He built it up to 17 he owned in the Haney area.

Soon he moved onto bigger things, as Maple Ridge “got too small,” and he was buying failing businesses and turning them around. He was a business associate of Vancouver real estate tycoon Nelson Skalbania, and they were partners in owning the Edmonton Oilers in their pre-NHL days when they were in the World Hockey Association. They hired iconic coach and GM Glen Sather as a player/coach.

He owned Glacier Park Lodge in Rogers Pass, as well as pubs, hotels, a cabaret, a golf course and other enterprises. Robson also founded The Maple Ridge News, and owned three other community papers in the Lower Mainland.

His involvement at city hall started early, as he was on the planning commission in 1972, and served as chairman.

“We did Maple Ridge’s first community plan,” he said.

They discovered that building subdivisions was a drain on the city coffers, with the need for roads, sidewalks, street lights, sewer lines and storm drains. They instituted the first development cost charges in the city, if not the province. They were $250 for a residential lot.

“We had developers screaming at us,” he recalled.

Now the DCC charge is $22,465, and Robson has been pushing his council colleagues to raise it considerably, as most neighbouring cities have charges in the $40,000 range.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge to hike charges developers must pay

He asserted the city left as much as $100 million on the table, by not charging developers what they should be paying.

“Growth costs money – we figured that out 50 years ago,” he said. “We have to charge enough to cover it.”

He has been at odds with the majority of council on the topic, and many others this term. Robson said the past four years on council were hard on him. At a time when he was suffering through a health scare, his council colleagues investigated him, made accusations that he disclosed confidential information, and took disciplinary action.

Robson took the matter to court, at his own expense, and had the censure against him quashed.

READ ALSO: Councillor takes City of Maple Ridge to court

“This is the worst time I’ve had, in 50 years,” said Robson, describing the environment as ‘toxic.’

But he’s leaving it behind, and his health is back.

This year wasn’t the first time he fought city hall. Some 25 years ago Robson sued the city for failing to get taxpayer permission to borrow money used for the town core project – which included building city hall. He won that fight too. The deal was re-worked, and he said in the coming council term, that expensive project will be paid off, freeing up funds.

“That will be an issue for the next council to decide.”

Robson said the city has fallen behind in building infrastructure – things like roads, recreation facilities, social housing and schools

“We’re a billion dollars in infrastructure short,” he asserts.

But he feels the team at city hall now – the senior staff – should help to get the city caught up.

“I’m really excited about our new staff,” he said, “and they understand this issue.”

Robson’s “Go big” approach apparently also extends to family life. He is a father of 10, and has 17 grandchildren.

And after Oct. 15, he’s going to have a lot more time to spend with them.

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