01/17/2014 09:41 EST | Updated 03/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Industrial plans threaten agricultural land in Maple Ridge

The Agricultural Land Reserve surrounds the District of Maple Ridge on all sides. 

Mayor Ernie Daykin says the "rural feel" is one of the things that attracts people to the community, pointing out there are three herds of dairy cows within a five-minute drive of the district hall downtown. 

Most of the agriculture, however, happens on a small scale, with most of the farms a few acres in size, selling their products through the Haney Farmers Market.

"When you think of Maple Ridge, I don't think the first thing that pops into people's minds is that Maple Ridge is this great agricultural mecca," says Daykin. "We don't have those large lot, big operations."

The land set aside for agriculture puts pressure on the planning department. The district is looking to double the number of jobs within its boundaries to 48,000, and to do that, Maple Ridge's commercial and industrial strategy estimates it will need 200 additional acres of industrial land by 2041.

"The two things that people dislike most about Maple Ridge [are] having lack of shopping opportunities locally, but also having to commute outside the community to go to work," says Daykin.

Land sought to development

He's hoping roughly 150 acres in the Albion Flats area will change that. It's surrounded by business, but is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve. The district wants to apply for an exemption for the area southeast of 105 Avenue, to put in more shopping, and a business park.

"It's land that is surrounded by urban development right now," says Daykin. "I would have a hard time supporting 200 or 300 acres out in the middle of nowhere for that use too. I think it's got to be contiguous to our urban growth and the way that we're developing out now."

Two separate applications for land on the northwest side of 105 Avenue have already been turned down by the Agricultural Land Commission. Daykin says the commission has told him it's open to an exemption for the area in the southeast, with a number of conditions, including improving drainage in the entire area.

"If we have one side excluded, and by improving the drainage on the other side, which will help that farmland, that's the benefit to agriculture."

The 250-acre Pelton property at 128th Avenue and 203rd Street is also mentioned in the district's commercial and industrial strategy as a possible site to recommend for an exclusion. The owners applied for an exclusion in 2010, but it was turned down. Daykin says it's premature to think about whether the district would revisit that application.

"Whether that is reconsidered again by council, I don't know," he says. "It's so close to the Golden Ears Bridge, and I think you could argue that it's maybe in a better spot than the Albion lands."

ALC under review

The Agricultural Land Commission itself is currently undergoing a core review from the provincial government. Daykin says, although he doesn't agree with every decision the commission has made, he wants to see it left intact.

"My dad was a farmer before he went off to become a milk tester," says Daykin. "My grandfather and both great grandfathers were farmers and I appreciate the value that it brings to our community and to our communities in general in the province."

Is the Agricultural Land Commission's role as a gatekeeper working in communities like Maple Ridge? Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin and Agricultural Land Commission Executive Director Brian Underhill will join host Mark Forsythe at the Billy Miner Alehouse (22355 River Road) in Maple Ridge from noon to one on Friday, Jan. 17.