Silver Valley: according to plan?

Ten years later, is it time to have another look at eco suburb in Maple Ridge?

Silver Valley puts a priority on eco-sensitive development

Silver Valley puts a priority on eco-sensitive development

The words in the decade-old Silver Valley Area Plan – which tried to establish a new standard for suburbs – are lofty, if not inspirational.

Silver Valley, it says, proposes an “alternative development model,” to typical suburban growth.

Schools, it says, will anchor each of four hamlets (Blaney Bog, Forest, Horse and River Village), while the plan “encourages” a town hall, fire hall, a police centre, library, daycare, and bus stops in the River Village area on the southern border on 132nd Avenue, at the northern end of 232nd Street.

Development will conform to the landscape, says the plan, while smaller groups of homes will be known as “eco-clusters.” Its value of the environment will preserve the streams that provide some of the richest salmon habitat in the Lower Mainland.

A dozen years, though, after it was approved in 2002, the plan is getting a second look.

“Are we achieving the densities that we intended in Silver Valley?” Coun. Al Hogarth asked at an April 7 meeting.

Maple Ridge will consider reviewing the plan to see if it’s attaining the goals of density and population numbers, following a motion by Coun. Corisa Bell.

The population target set then was 11,000 people. Today, about 6,000 residents live in the area.

For Bruce Hobbs, Silver Valley is just another suburb.

Hobbs has watched development of the mountainside from his 132nd Avenue home for the past dozen years.

While the community was supposed to be sustainable, that’s a “distant dream.”

Every service that residents need requires driving to, he says.

Hobbs cites the website Walk Score, which measures a community’s walkability, and Silver Valley records a score of seven out of a possible 100, classifying it as a car-dependent community.

“This is the very definition of a sprawl development, not a sustainable development,” Hobbs said.

There are no schools or stores in Silver Valley.

“The closest bus is one to three kilometres away.”

A sidewalk on one of the main connecting roads, 232nd Street, is a work in progress.

Hobbs made all those comments a year ago and still feels that way.

Like any business plan, if the one for Silver Valley is not working, it needs to be redone, he added.

“To be charitable, it was done with the best of intentions. But it’s not working.”

Hobbs also cites the recognition by district staff that property taxes that come from the new suburbs don’t pay for the services they demand. It’s just too expensive to add the services, he said.

“It’s not self-supporting. It’s not self-sustaining.”

Building a new bridge over the South Alouette River to access the eastern part of Silver Valley could speed growth of the area. That’s a pricey project pegged at $40 million, but Hobbs says the province should contribute some because 240th Street could provide another access to Golden Ears Provincial Park.

Originally, Silver Valley was supposed to be developed into four hamlets, each with a school as the focal point.

But dollars are tight and the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district’s just-released Strategic Facilities Review – Phase 1, says only one school will be needed

If so, the Silver Valley area plan needs adjusting, said Nicole Read, with Action Silver Valley, a group that formed to oppose the abandoning of the Blaney Bog school site (23103 – 136th Ave.). While the school district said last year that it doesn’t have the money to buy the site, rezoning to allow housing has been delayed pending the entire facilities review.

Development in Maple Ridge continues to forge ahead with little thought to the impact on education facilities.

Read, though, likes her home. Living in Silver Valley is amazing, she says.

“I do support the plan. I’d like to see the plan executed.”

With the Albion area along 102nd Avenue and 240th Street bursting at the seems, there’s more need for a school there.

Read acknowledges the district last year opened two new parks, Deer Fern Park and Cedar Park, in Silver Valley.

But they’re small, with not enough room to even throw a ball around, she said.

“They have to create some open spaces.”

Meanwhile, it is possible to create neighbourhood cohesion by small scale projects such as a book exchange program.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie has been on both school board and district council while Silver Valley unfolded.

“It will be a beautiful part of our community. It’s going to be something that’s gorgeous.”

It will take time to unfold, though, before shops and businesses move in, she adds.

“As much as we don’t have the patience, it is about when people are ready to invest and the numbers have to be there.”

But she, too, favours having a second look at the plan if schools will no longer be there to anchor each hamlet.

“They planned it with the schools – what is it without the schools?”

It’s important the area get council and staff’s full attention rather than be raised as an election issue, as November civic elections approach.

Still, nice as it is, growing in Silver Valley, up the mountain, away from transportation corridors and infill opportunities, never felt right for Ashlie.

She questions previous council decision’s to grow there, although it is within the urban boundary. She would rather see development along Lougheed Highway and Dewdney Trunk Road to create population density to attract services.

Planning director Christine Carter said it’s a matter of time for the plan to roll out, adding that there was no deadline for it. The plan promised schools in each of the four hamlets, but that was based on the previous pattern of school construction.

When she visits there, Carter says she sees lots of green space. “It has a really nice feel.”

Some say the plan has failed because commercial development hasn’t followed, but shops and businesses are always the last to show up because a customer base is needed before doors open.

“If there’s a market, you know that will come.”

And there’s some commercial space included in an application on Silver Valley Road and 232nd Street and inquiries are starting to come in for the allotted commercial areas along 132nd Avenue.

The district has also tried to maximize population densities in Silver Valley wherever possible. Population targets put in the plan a decade ago weren’t exact, Carter added.

While the Silver Valley plan allows garden suites and secondary suites, those aren’t being included in new developments, she added.

Carter said the fact people want to ensure the district honours the Silver Valley plan shows that people like the area.