Ridge offers land for tourism projects

Paintball and camping among options listed as 'concepts' by district.

Will people want to run around in the backwoods of Maple Ridge, shooting paintballs and yelling at each other, playing army?

Will they come out here and stay in a large campground near Whonnock Lake instead of Golden Ears Provincial Park?

Maple Ridge council wants to know if entrepreneurs are interested in both concepts as it offers to lease out its land and grow the economy by drawing in people, money and jobs.

But the paint ball battle could be half won.

A United Kingdom company, Bawtry Paintball Fields, has already pitched Maple Ridge and has spent the last year and a half touring the district looking for a place where it could start its first North American venture.

Described as “The Disneyland of Paintball” and likened to “something out of a Hollywood film set,” Bawtry Paintball Fields was named Britain’s best paintball venue five years running, says its website.

The company’s already met several times with district staff and toured around, looking for spots.

A likely location for the paintball could be 20 acres of district land on Fern Crescent at the entrance to Golden Ears Provincial Park, while another 50-acre district parcel at Whonnock Lake could be leased for a full-service campground.

Councillors, though, had a few concerns about the facilities.

What about the fire risk to neighbouring homes from campfires, asked Coun. Al Hogarth.

Director of parks and facilities Dave Boag said many campers now use propane-fuelled fireplaces, while bylaws director Liz Holitzki said Maple Ridge fire department can slap burning plans in place at any time.

Thick forest in the Whonnock area is expected to dissipate any campfire smoke.

Council heard that developing the campgrounds could cost $4 million, so a 20- to 25-year lease term is needed to make the investment worthwhile.

If any leasing deals are made, they could be modeled on the arrangement WildPlay Element Park already has with Maple Ridge on the former municipal campground for its tree-top rope adventures.

Maple Ridge now makes twice what it used to in leasing to WildPlay than it did from campground fees.

The arrangement, which took effect in 2010, also includes a share in the revenue if WildPlay does exceedingly well.

However, last year, WildPlay had its rent cut in half by the district, to $16,000, because of lower-than expected revenues. Still, in its first year, it drew about 14,000 people, with 70 per cent of those from outside Maple Ridge.

In 2012, attendance jumped to 15,750.

Council was to vote on going forward with seeking expressions of interest at its Tuesday meeting.


Cell companies should share towers

If cellphone companies could all just get along, they might make the District of Maple Ridge’s new policy on cell towers easier to implement.

Maple Ridge wants companies to share towers where possible at  five locations.

The strategy is an attempt at preventing cell towers from being built near homes, often a controversial topic over which the district has no control because communications is a federal issue.

Council last fall passed a policy asking cell companies to consult with the district, although it recognizes municipalities cannot prohibit such structures.

The protocol requires review of “high-impact” towers – those within 100 metres of residential areas or greater in height than 15 metres in commercial areas, or towers that go into environmentally sensitive or culturally significant areas.

Under the policy, such a proposal would require a public meeting before seeking permission from the district. People who live within 300 metres of a proposed tower would receive mail notification.

The policy, if approved, also would require cellphone towers to be “disguised and unobtrusive and inconspicuous.”

It would also set limits on how close a tower could be located to homes. Towers that are 56 metres or higher would have to be three times the height of the tower from the nearest house.

A staff report notes that free-standing towers don’t require municipal building permits, but towers or antennas attached to regular buildings do require building permits.

With technology changing and smaller antennas now capable of being attached to street lights or traffic lights, the district will also have to create a policy dealing with those devices as well.

Another option is to install antennae on public infrastructure that would minimize visual impacts. It’s hoped that the companies responding to the request for expressions of interest will consider such technology.

“From my perspective, it’s got to be what’s best for Maple Ridge citizens. We are open to them being there as much as it can be on our terms,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin.