The subtle charms of downtown Maple Ridge

Metro Vancouver’s 1996 Livable Region Strategic Plan tagged the Maple Ridge Town  Centre as one of eight regional hot spots for commercial and employment growth, alongside Metrotown, central Coquitlam and downtown Richmond.

Local government invested $100 million in new civic buildings to fulfill the dream, but the private sector money never followed.  Even on a municipal scale, many residents  judge that the current retail opportunities in Maple Ridge are second-rate; they drive to Pitt Meadows, Langley or Port Coquitlam to shop.

The town centre functions to an adequate standard as a walkable urban village.  It features food markets, health services, a big public library and a recreation centre.  Condo and rental housing has clustered close by, with a good stock of housing for seniors.

This appeal is undercut by the scattered nature of the walkable village.  I am guessing, but there is probably more vacant land here than in any town of comparable size (75,000) in Canada.  There are some attractive events, such as the weekly farmers market from April through October, and some hardworking new entrepreneurs; there are also vacant shop fronts, homeless people and sex trade workers.

My co-tourist on indexing day was my intrepid wife Vicki McLeod, of VickiMcLeod.com, who has lived in Maple Ridge for 25 years.  We own a townhouse on the southern edge of the village, and make frequent use of its services including the very fine Arts Centre and Theatre.  We ate at the Green House, one of several independent locally-owned cafes that we like to support.

The municipal council under Mayor Ernie Daykin deserves credit for promoting the Town Centre, offering tax incentives to encourage both cosmetic improvements and substantive development, and investing in street improvements.  At the time of this posting, the District website showed  about 180 units of housing under construction, and close to 60 units of derelict housing have been removed. Some of the cleared land, purchased by local government for $3 million, now sits ready for development.

Other Council decisions have enabled continuing sprawl in Maple Ridge.  A look at the Aldergrove plan (Township of Langley) has confirmed my view that we could comfortably house an additional 5,000 people in central Maple Ridge at a medium density.  However, the market is demanding detached homes on a mixture of small and large lots, and single-use residential tracts continue to push into the forest, often far from any services.

16 years after the Livable Region strategy identified Maple Ridge as a potential regional centre, grandiose plans continue to emerge: a 5-tower, Newport style complex for the Haney Plaza property pictured here, a 3-tower row to go up behind the new casino.  But given that the real urban hot spots (downtown New West, Surrey Centre) are closer to good transit and employment, I think an early takeoff is unlikely in Maple Ridge.  I would be satisfied to see steady, diversified village-style development over the next several years.

(This is post #5 in our Urban Villages series.)

8 responses

  1. In Maple Ridge we have redefined the term ‘incremental steps’. Incremental is our skill and we are proud of it.

  2. Unfortunately Maple Ridge is infamous for it’s lack of shopping within walking distance especially for areas like Albion where more houses and townhouses are being built which only encourage people to drive to shop and cycling is a joke because it’s unsafe and cycle to what? Quaint little extremely over priced Bruce’s Market? Post Office in Whonnock now so one has to drive there or risk a 3 hour bus trip to and from to get parcels. Perhaps those naysayers about Albion CLAY farmlands should offer to drive people to and from shopping in PoCo, Langley or Abbotsford because they don’t want a shopping centre in Albion for their ill-informed personal agendas? I prefer to cycle but it took many months to get brave enough to ride on the roads and I do so with a GoPro camera because of so many people who think driving is the only mode of transportation here or that it should be. Why can’t we have a village shopping centre in Albion? Is it because the municipality gets more money from gas taxes?

    • Thanks for your interest. I’m going to introduce you to readers as Tracey from Equine Sport Photography – I hope that’s a correct reading of your email address.

      You’ve raised several points. First, the fact that patchwork development is unfriendly for walking and cycling. Our dispersed residential developments are often connected by narrow-gauge country roads with no shoulders, and people drive on them at high speeds. Residents are discouraged from taking physical exercise and from really looking at their environment. As time goes on we’ll retrofit these roads to urban standard, at a cost that was never included in the original discussions around zoning and building permits. People in East Albion and other subdivisions complain about the quality of roads and other services, but the fact is that our past development decisions were unaffordable, and we’re living with an infrastructure deficit. (And where the retrofitting is done, there is still not enough attention paid to cycling requirements.)

      Second, apart from the two east-west highways, there’s an almost total lack of neighbourhood commercial services in any part of Maple Ridge. The Kanaka coffee shop and its two neighbours in Albion make up one of three off-highway neighbourhood commercial nodes built since the Second World War. The municipality may bear some responsibility for this; but even where there’s commercial zoning and available land, as in Silver Valley, we see no signs of developer interest. I’m not a developer, and I don’t know what’s holding them back. There’s also, anecdotally, some resident resistance to commercial development, even on a small scale; for everyone like you who is pushing for more local services, someone else will be pushing against.

      The municipality’s Albion Flats plan includes an area that looks like neighbourhood commercial, around Bruce’s Market. But this zone will be oriented to Highway 7, and not to walking or cycling, and who knows what design and what services we’ll get. Perhaps this potential development is where you should focus your attention, if you’re unhappy with services at your end of the world.

      Finally, on the Albion Flats and the Agricultural Land Reserve. The ALR designation is provincial, so the municipality has no power to approve development on ALR lands. The municipality has not rejected any developer proposal related to the Albion Flats; none have come forward. The municipality has encouraged landowners in the flats to try to get their land out of the ALR. The municipality’s plan for the ALR (western) end of the Flats is to allow the construction of big box stores. The Mayor expects that we would see a Home Depot type store first. At a guess, the second might be a Superstore-type combination of food and economy clothing. The Kwantlen First Nation is working to develop a big-box mall just minutes to the east; I don’t know whether the market would support two such developments. None of this, of course, has anything to do with walking, or cycling, or transit.

      Big-box development will not satisfy people who want high-end shopping or boutique shopping in eastern Maple Ridge. The unsuccessful mayoralty candidate in the last election spoke of “Whistler-style shopping.” I personally think this expectation is unrealistic, given the nature of the retail market across the North Fraser from PoCo to Mission.

  3. There are many more things that need to be done in the downtown before it becomes necessary to to take a look at the Albion. Give it 10 to 20 years and the Albion may be ready for some modest proposal. In the meantime do what everyone else does, drive to the downtown of Maple Ridge and be thankful that we have one (a downtown). Sprawl is dumb. Sprawl without facilities is dumber. Perpetuating sprawl is dumbest. Put a moratorium on sprawl to the east and wait for the downtown to catch up with housing. The alternative is to move closer town where there is heaps of room for development, including as it happens, single residential. There is simply no merit in developing the Albion at all.

    • I understand all of your points, including the Provincial Government and the ALR – we need shopping in Albion, just as 240th/Dewdney has shopping within walking/cycling distance for that area. There’s nothing wrong with having shopping in Albion for the basic necessities of life – is there? Without having to drive into downtown Maple Ridge. What I’m getting at is that the Municipality approves the permits to build housing/townhouses in areas like Albion, knowing full well, that the shopping is nil and all is does is encourage people to drive. Drive drive drive. Furthering our dependance on oil even more. Telling me to drive to Maple Ridge downtown is counterproductive. I cycle. I chose to get rid of my gas-guzzling SUV on purpose. Perhaps if there were more like-minded people in this town, we might get more infrastructure that’s conducive to reducing the carbon footprint, instead of increasing it, which building more housing in Albion does. Perhaps it it up to the Municipality to keep permits within walking/cycling distance and stop building housing in areas that encourage driving? I have lived here since 1970 and much has changed, but not always beneficial to Maple Ridge. Pitt Meadows, Langley and Port Coquitlam saw these changes years ago and planned for it – they actually planned shopping areas and knew that they would entice Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows area residents to shop in their towns because they knew that the Municipality of Maple Ridge (I don’t care who was in power) over the years just didn’t “get it” and now, I fear, it’s almost too late. Langley was smartest, in that they enticed all these big box stores to come into their area with vastly reduced taxes and they jumped at that and you can see the result. Unfortunately, the property taxes had to jump for residential owners as well to compensate for those tax savings, but eventually Langley will benefit and they are already realizing that what they chose to do is working. I think it’s time Maple Ridge stopped hemming and hawing and realized that we need businesses here in Maple Ridge that not only encourage shopping, but hire locally as well. It’s a win-win situation all the way around.

      As for moving closer – you hit the nail on the head. Do you know how many people from this area in Albion are moving closer (Pitt Meadows, PoCo, etc.)? Many. The residential ownership in this area doesn’t last that long once people figure out how far they have to go and now, with only one school for elementary students to attend, that is full to capacity, they’ll really be thinking about living in this area, especially if they have school-aged children. Soon, we will be moving too and Pitt Meadows is looking like the likely area for us – walkability does count for much, especially in these times of reducing one’s carbon footprint. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one concerned about this either.

  4. What I have learned (well, I think I have learned) is that there we have experienced a decoupling of the residential developer from the commercial developer. What do I mean? Up to now the single residential guys have ruled the roost. The District, ever keen to load up its revenue stream, has shown little resistance and for the most part has rubber-stamped (though the signing officers and successive councils will deny this) sub-division after subdivision. The planners and council have for decades recognized a looming problem. The problem being that in time they would be faced with the fact that the subdivisions would extend well beyond any meaningful services (schools, shops, community facilities). It is not that the District was not aware of the problem – it simply chose to ignore and condemn itself willingly to the point where now even the people in the outlying areas are complaining (and believe me they are, newcomers and long timers alike). The ‘decoupling’ has occurred because the residential developers have been given carte blanche to race ahead of the commercial developers and to this day the commercial developers all agree that the ‘numbers are not there’ for significant shopping nodes to be contemplated in such areas as Silver Valley, Balsam Creek and the Albion area generally. Seeing the opportunity, up pops SmartCentres in the Albion, only to be thwarted by the ALR. Then up pops the Kwantlen, to be thwarted by no one. In short, our planning process has been a mess since the day the notion of ‘planning’ crept into the local vernacular. What we have is a mess. That is why it remains the topic that will drive the political banter in this Ridge for years to come. I see no movement in the compass, the GPS is set, the waypoints are locked in, the goals have been set by the sins of the past. Frankly, there is no hope of any solution to the problem other than yet more development. We don’t as a community stand a chance from learning from the mistakes of other communities, let alone our own mistakes. Demographics win, logic loses.

  5. Afterthought: one would think that the role of the District is to couple. On the contrary, they have gone for the quick pick of planning and as a result have missed the grand prize; livability.

  6. Pingback: The Daily Durning: High Transit Use and Low Income | Price Tags

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