Thursday, January 13, 2011

Letter To Mayor and Council Regarding Albion Flats

I have a few concerns about potential commercial development on the Albion flats:
I am concerned that previously productive farmland will be destroyed for the delivery of a single function - shopping.
I am quite concerned about the viability and vitality of our current downtown (Haney), and how the creation of yet another, strictly commercial centre (Albion shopping), will adversely affect it.
It has been established, historically, that a vibrant, vital and active downtown is essential in defining a region or municipality, giving it focus and guiding development in an orderly and sustainable fashion. The development of yet another mall (a single-use commercial enclave) outside of the town core will ultimately detract from the core - drawing energy, commercial patrons, infrastructure dollars and other resources away from it. More and higher volume roads, and other municipal infrastructure will have to be created to service this area at great expense and at the expense of creating more density in Haney where the infrastructure currently exists (as does vacant land).
I applaud the new incentive program for downtown development that has been established and the aesthetic/structural improvements that have been made to 224th St. (Spirit Square), Lougheed Hwy. and other streets in the city centre. These are sure to attract further private investment, provided interest is not drawn away the city centre by the promise of "big boxes".
I am wondering if the city of Maple Ridge actually now has a great opportunity (and competitive advantage) to capitalize on its relative lack of big box, auto strip malls, in favour of the "new urbanism" ideal of a vibrant, mixed-use urban centre? Our downtown surely is full of potential. Further to the economic incentives and beautification, the city must help end the Extra Foods labour dispute so nearby residents can once again walk to grocery shopping; motivate the owners of the Liquidation World (mall) to make aesthetic improvements or to entirely rebuild on this prime, urban site; motivate the owners of Haney Place Mall to modernize as we have seen them promise in the past.
Why do big-box mall developers seeks only "greenfield" developments on what used to be the best agricultural land? Because it suits their economic interests as developers to do so. But does it meet the best interests of Maple Ridge and its orderly, sustainable development?
The current model for mall construction (and I presume Albion will follow this model), is entirely a car-dependant one. People drive from their homes on one side of town - shop - then return by car to their homes. This mall will again have to pave vast areas of land for parking and this whole shopping scenario requires expanded highway capacity, filling the streets with congestion and the air with auto emissions. Then, in the evenings, when all the cars and shoppers are gone, the "mall" sits idle and lifeless, except for those looking for criminal opportunity and the security guards charged with preventing it.
The MeadowTown mall at the border of Pitt Meadow and Maple Ridge is such an example of singular use (shopping), auto-dependent, mono-use. Some would say that this model of strictly commercial development has seen its day come and go in favour of truly mixed-use, "new urbanist" concepts. Examples of which are springing up throughout the Fraser Valley - Sutterbrook, Newport Village and Morgan Crossing, to name a few.
There appears to be a need for some commercial development in Albion to service that area's growing populations. Surely there is currently commercial land where Bruce's Market and the abandoned R. Muth and Sons service station now exists which would be suitable for smaller-scale commercial opportunities. And what about development on the south side of the railway tracks on current industrial lands. That proposal seems very interesting and should be looked at very closely.
The developers of the proposed Albion flats mall, Smart Centres, promote the concept of developing a quaint, village-like, shopping experience. I say that this concept already exists in Maple Ridge and it is called Historic Haney, our current downtown. Let's spend the energy and development dollars on densifying, improving and expanding our current downtown to turn it into the vibrant, urban centre that we all would like to see.

1 comment:

  1. Rick,
    Great letter!
    Hopefully the take-over of Zellers by Target will mean redevelopment of Haney Place Mall, which will improve the available shopping for our town, and will also surely have an impact on the speed with which other improvements for Maple Ridge's downtown are going to happen.
    Once the pressure is off City Council to deliver on its promises with regard to shopping, it should be easier to decide what is truly the best use for Albion, which should not depend on who owns the land, but on what is in the best interests of our community.