Questions linger on Maple Ridge’s commercial strategy

‘Not clear how to improve taxes’ jobs, says one councillor

After four years of discussion, its’ time to approve Maple Ridge’s commercial-industrial strategy, says Mayor Ernie Daykin.

Council wasn’t ready to OK the strategy Monday. It will return to council June 16 for more discussion.

“I think we need to move forward,” Daykin said.

“Is it perfect? No. And we could be here another five years and not come up with the perfect plan.”

To get the strategy working, an implementation plan proposes five action items: creating a commercial zone at Dewdney Trunk Road and 248th, where a small shopping centre is proposed; and second, creating an incentive plan, through tax breaks or holidays, that will draw businesses to Maple Ridge.

A third step is tweaking regulations for home-based businesses to encourage people to take the plunge and start a business.

Fourth on the list is talking to property and business owners in Albion Industrial Area to see if there are ways of expanding their business, possibly by allowing more commercial opportunities.

The last tactic is studying the feasibility of industrial use for Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure lands on Lougheed Highway, just east of Kanaka Way. The 38 acres are up for sale.

Studies are also proposed for property at 128th Avenue and 232nd Street and for seven acres to the east and 20 acres to the west of Kwantlen First Nations reserve on Lougheed Highway, as well as for the Thornhill urban reserve, the area east of 248th Street.

Thornhill could be used for commercial-industrial purposes, as well as residential.

“Right now, it’s designated urban reserve,” said planning director Christine Carter.

But that can mean either residential or industrial.

Councillors still had questions, however.

Corisa Bell said it was clear previously that the commercial-industrial strategy hadn’t been ready for approval and that council was just considering an implementation plan.

“I really don’t know what to say.

“I’m a little bit frustrated, absolutely. I also think the economic development office should have had a staff member present today,” to explain some items.

And Coun. Bob Masse said it wasn’t clear how the strategy would improve taxes or create jobs.

“I’m not certain this is going to get us where we need to go.”

But senior staff were getting testy with the delays.

“At some point in time, we have to make a decision,” said chief administrator Jim Rule.

Public works general manager Frank Quinn said the intent Monday was to discuss the implementation plan rather than the commercial-industrial strategy itself. However, staff could revisit the strategy if council directed, he added.

The commercial-industrial strategy lists several short-term and long-term steps to spur economic growth.

Short-term: attracting food carts to the downtown make Memorial Peace Park a more lively place; bringing in more sports tournaments, banning big-box stores from industrial zones, encouraging more restaurants on 224th Street, and speeding up extension of Abernethy Way to connect to business parks at the north end of 256th Street.

Long-term: pursuing a West Coast Express station in the Albion Industrial Area, and developing tourism near the former Albion ferry terminal.

TransLink, however, is currently selling the latter.

Other long-term goals are to encourage development of Haney Plaza for mixed residential-commercial use, as well as developing Albion flats, east of 105th Avenue into a business park, next to where Smart Centres is proposing a shopping centre in what’s now the Albion fairgrounds.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie said some things could be done quickly to speed growth, such as changing bylaws to allow alcohol to be served at downtown sidewalk cafes.

“That should be happening right now. It’s one of those immediate action things that needs to happen,” so people can sit on a sidewalk on a sunny night and enjoy a beer, like in a civilized country, she added.