What now with Albion flats?

Land commission suggests focus on eastern portion of 105th Avenue

With the Agricultural Land Commission suggesting the east side of the Albion flats can be developed, but the west side should stay farmland, figuring out SmartCentres’ response remains a guessing game.

Most of the mall developer’s property lies on the west side of 105th Avenue at Lougheed Highway, which the commission says should remain in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The commission gave its comments earlier this week on the District of Maple Ridge draft plan, which called for developing both sides of Albion.

Smart Centres representative Nathan Hildebrandt said Thursday his company just got the comments.

“We have not had any time to go through the material at length nor discuss it internally.”

It’s just too soon to make any conclusions, says Coun. Mike Morden.

“In truth, I really don’t know what that looks like,” he added.

“I have to wait until the process rolls out a bit farther,” following a staff report.

Coun. Bob Masse said it’s too speculative to predict what SmartCentres will do.

“I can assume they’re not happy.”

SmartCentres could still apply to remove its land from the Agricultural Land Reserve, Mayor Ernie Daykin acknowledged. Council could then decide whether to forward that formal application to the land commission.

But earlier this week Daykin indicated he’s following the land commission’s advice and focusing on the property east of 105th Avenue.

“We can now move forward with greater certainty and clarity. The ALC has done their job, now council will do ours,” the mayor said.

“We look forward to working with the ALC as we move forward with an exclusion application. The ALC’s comments have a huge impact on property owners everywhere in Albion. Council will take the time to review the full report from the ALC and share this information with property owners so that this project can move forward as quickly as possible,” he added.

Given that about 100 acres are involved, “It’s probably the most significant piece in a long time,” he said later.

Regardless of what happens, it will be half a decade before building starts, says former Maple Ridge candidate Claus Andrup.

He pointed to the several months it took to entice Thrifty Foods and Target to Maple Ridge. Thrifty’s opens next year in Haney Place Mall, while Target won’t start renovations of Zellers until 2013.

Andrup says the commission’s comments vindicate candidates in the November election like himself who favoured focusing on the downtown.

“The ALC has made a statement about how they feel about Albion, which must give encouragement to people thinking about the downtown.”

In the meantime, he predicted SmartCentres will continue to pressure the ALC.

Andrup would still support some limited shopping in the Albion area that is tentatively supported by the commission.

“If SmartCentres feels that it can live with a limited footprint in the Albion, I don’t object to it – I think they’ll object.”

Another former candidate, Christian Cowley wondered how SmartCentres would have developed its properties on the west side, given the environmental limits such as stream setbacks.

“The site to me was never really suitable for one of their typical developments. It doesn’t fit the large-scale development model, which is generally what they look for,” Cowley said.

“I would say we generally don’t understand their game plan very well.”

Urban designer Rod Gruzelier, who several years ago, along with Andrup, proposed a Granville Island-type plan for the south side of the Lougheed Highway in the Albion industrial area, said that the commission’s comments give more clarity and could push development plans closer to 240th Street.

He wants another study, with better terms of reference, to look at the entire Albion area, both sides of Lougheed Highway, to create a plan that would get people excited. Residents in the 240th Street area need some shopping, he said.

“I think some form of shopping will happen there. Some form of West Coast Express station will take place.”

A new stop for the West Coast Express in the Albion area has been considered, but isn’t part of TransLink’s immediate plans.

“There’s phenomenal opportunity down there to do something, but it’s got to be done right.”

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