Silver Valley – the suburb stuck on a mountain in north Maple Ridge – is unfolding as it should, just not as fast as planned.
The Silver Valley area plan was written in 2002. Since development started, spopulation has grown slower than expected, while more people are living in each of the homes in the verdant mountainside suburb at the north end of 232nd Street.
“I think those growth projections that we thought we were going to meet, haven’t been met,” Mayor Ernie Daykin said Tuesday.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s a healthy pace.”
Monday, council reviewed another update on the area, following one that was done in 2010.
It notes that a higher number of people living in each individual house and a slower rate of population growth account for Silver Valley’s leisurely pace of growth to the point where about 6,000 people now live there.
From 2001 to 2011, Maple Ridge has had an average yearly growth rate of 1.6 per cent, dropping even to one per cent in the last few years.
But a background report in 2004 predicted a growth rate of 3.2 per cent.
“They were looking at fairly peppy numbers,” Daykin said.
Originally, Silver Valley was supposed to reach its target population of about 11,000 people in 20 years, with schools and shops by 2022, all while respecting the natural environment.
The mayor, though, says the area will take only another decade and be complete by 2024, a few years more than expected, “barring the world economy taking a huge tanker.
“We’re probably half way there.”
The pace of development and has drawn its critics, and encouraged one of its residents to challenge Daykin for the mayor’s chair in the Nov. 15 election.
Nicole Read says the review should have waited until Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district released the final part of its facilities study and decided whether it will build an elementary school in Blaney Hamlet, near 232nd St.
“This is ultimately supposed to be an eco cluster. We’re supposed to be able to walk to schools, to parks, to shopping. We don’t have any of that built out.”
She notes there’s a small park and toddler playground nearby, but no open fields for playing. To get to one requires driving to Maple Ridge Park.
There’s still no sidewalk on 232nd St., connecting Silver Valley with the rest of the district, although a rebuild of the street is one of the near-term projects in the capital plan.
Despite the extra density, “we have none of the services that are listed in the plan.”
Three elementary schools and one secondary school were part of the original Silver Valley plan and served as the anchors for each of the hamlets.
None of them may be built now because of changing priorities and policies and money shortages.
But the review says those school sites could be used for community purposes.
Read notes the report says that Blaney Hamlet – the largest of four – is already over the population level set in the plan. Currently, 515 homes are built or being built in the hamlet, with 75 more to come. But the area plan calls for only 460.
Also apparent in the report is the lack of communication between the school district and city. Maple Ridge wasn’t told, during the OCP process in 2006, that the school district was reconsidering the location of four new schools in Silver Valley, according to the report.
“It seems in this report a lot of blame is directed at the school district.”
Read has promised to get a school built in Silver Valley if she’s elected mayor. She wants to increase population densities in west Maple Ridge and fill up the schools there so that the province will provide funding to build new schools in east Maple Ridge.
She wants the city and school board to work closely together as the city plans its suburbs so that education officials are aware of growth plans and increasing population densities.
“Once we can show our ability to develop responsibly, I would work with the school board and ministry to get a school actualized in Albion and planned for Silver Valley,” she said.
Daykin defends the approach to building Silver Valley.
“Do you take taxpayer dollars and put in all the infrastructure in first, hoping that development will come and you’re going to recoup your costs? So putting taxpayers’ dollars at risk, in some way shape or form.”
Four or five new parks have been built in the area in the last few years. Regardless of whether a school is built in Blaney Hamlet, the district will be building a larger park nearby, with room enough for a soccer field.
“The plan anticipates 21 public parks in the Silver Valley area,” Daykin said.
The staff report says that if schools are not built in Silver Valley, the land should be used for other community purposes.
While a shuttle bus connection to Silver Valley is also in the Metro Vancouver mayors’ vision for transportation, released earlier this year, stores and restaurants aren’t expected to show up until the development is complete.
It’s partly because Silver Valley was designed to fit and preserve the mountainous, rainforest terrain, that it may be hard to get around in. That preservation of nature is resulting in higher real estate prices, says the report.
“You drive through Silver Valley and look at what we’re doing there and you compare that to Burke Mountain in Coquitlam, I’d put us against them any day,” Daykin said.