Christian Cowley

Vision:
1) Deeper Roots Greater Heights (motto of the District of Maple Ridge)
Q. What does that mean to you and is it reflected in the important day-to-day decisions of District Hall?

I was part of the citizen focus group the District assembled to create the new logo and catch phrase. (It’s actually Deep Roots, Greater Heights). The focus group suggested the values that should be reflected in the catch phrase that was eventually adopted (the consultants came back with some rather trite ones that were rejected). Needless to say, there were a lot of jokes about “growing opportunities.” To me the motto means that we have to reflect our roots in how we develop. Greater heights does not mean that we cut everything down and plant new buildings everywhere, it means that we value what we have and artfully build a great place to live—a livable Maple Ridge. We can be a great city without being big (or sprawling).

I don’t think the motto is being used to incorporate our values into daily decision-making by Council and key staff yet. To do this, we will need at least 4 councillors that will continually express these values and demand that they are reflected in decisions. I will certainly carry this standard if the electorate selects me for Council.

Residential Development:
Development has played a large part in the lives of Maple Ridge residents, and many of the problems experienced in our neighborhoods are a direct result of rapid development.

2) Quality of life.
Q. Does development improve the quality of life for the residents of Maple Ridge? If so how or why not?

Compact development of the right kind in the right place can benefit the existing residents, but as the Silver Valley and Albion residents lacking adequate access to shops and local schools know, leapfrog development without full services and amenities can be stressful for the residents. Excessive growth in a sprawl configuration that is permitted as a means of balancing the annual budget incurs long-term liabilities that raise taxes every year. We have grown from a small town of 5,000 to a city of 80,000 within one lifetime—and growth alone has still not solved ANY of the problems as promised.

We need to accept the lessons from around the world about compact, human-scale development that is sustainable and forward looking. We have to slow the pace so that our infrastructure can catch up. We need to concentrate on fixing the mistakes of the past and find innovative ways to finance this remedial work. Shops will not come to low density areas because of the poor business case, but a social enterprise (co-op) might because of its built-in clientele.

3) Tax revenues are increasing each year with the addition of new housing but despite this our taxes are going up at a greater rate than inflation. The district financial statements and the districts 5 year plan do not breakout the additional costs of schools, fire, police protection, water and sewage, etc. nor do they show numbers for the infrastructure charges needed to support additional development.
Q. Does development make economic sense? Is it good fiscal policy to continue development without having a business plan with understandable cost attribution? Can you provide details that show that development is paying for itself and is not being subsidized by the taxpayer? Should the developer or the taxpayer pay for the cost of new development infrastructure?

Please check out www.strongtowns.org and www.smartgrowth.bc.ca. The Curb Side Chat report in the first shows case studies for the actual cost of urban infrastructure vs tax revenues, and the second contains a 2004 sprawl report that lists Maple Ridge as #24 or #23 out of 24 communities for many sprawl attributes. Together, these reports show that sprawling residential development does not make economic sense and our rising tax bills are the absolute proof. Development is definitely being paid by the taxpayer. We are on the hook for millions in storm sewer remedial work on River Road, for the bridges to Silver Valley, for an alternate route to Silver Valley, etc. As a business person, I can state that there is no business case for urban sprawl development. There is a strong business case for bringing in industry and commerce to existing developments and redeploying vacant properties. We presently have enough land and buildings set aside for industry and commerce. What we now need is a Council that will act as ambassadors to invite new enterprises here.

4) Little thought seems to go into determining how new development will impact existing neighbourhoods. Example: The Alouette Valley has seen a huge increase in dump trucks on its’ streets seeking places to get rid of fill from development properties in Silver Ridge. Properties are being “fill farmed” on the North Alouette River, which increases the risk of flooding in this area.
Q. Is the development planning process being handled well? And is fill-farming an appropriate practice on farmland?

Development takes place at the will of Council. Council is responsible for its proper implementation. Farmland practices on ALR land are determined by the ALC, subject to environmental standards set by the various ministries and municipal departments—i.e. our 30 m setback in riparian zones. This question is not a yes or no question because in some places agricultural dykes are appropriate for legitimate farm objectives. The devil is in the details and the ways in which the various regulations are followed and enforced. There is a case along the N. Alouette that pits residents against a resident farmer. This case is not clear cut—there appears to have been some transgressions, but there also appears to be legitimate actions taken to protect the farmer’s livelihood on his own property following the regulations. In this case, we need close scrutiny to ensure that the community’s best interests are preserved.

5) On the District of Maple Ridge website it is stated that the district supports and promotes Smart Growth, Sustainable Communities and Affordable Housing but at the same time council keeps approving conventional clear-cut one acre developments miles from any shopping or other amenities such as the one on Grant Hill (which is currently shut down due to sediment runoff).
Q. What does Smart Growth mean to you as a candidate for council and can you give us any examples of other towns/cities that to you are good examples of Smart Growth principles and why.?.

I like Portland, Oregon, because it seems to be implementing Smart Growth principles. It has a firm urban boundary and aims to create a walkable, bike-able, human-scaled city. It has a nice feel to it. Smart Growth to me means just that—a compact downtown built up along high frequency transit routes so that we are less car-dependant and children can ride their bikes around town. There are enough people in a concentrated area to support commerce, created by in-fill development and densification. We need an affordable housing policy, not just words.

I believe that we should firm up our urban boundary, not keep allowing the shameless sprawl such as the one mentioned above in Thornhill and the dozens of others approved by Council this last term. Outside the core, we should be implementing our OCP with neighbourhood-scale commercial developments in the designated nodes. No re-zoning is required. We need our farmland to feed the thousands of new people that will inhabit our town and to provide jobs as climate change and rising oil prices affect our food system. See http://goldenearstransitioninitiative.ning.com/ a movement I helped establish here. In other words, I would like to create a livable town.

OCP
6) The creation of the Official Community Plan is a product of the astounding resource and wholehearted dedication and skill in our community base. Key recommendations from the OCP are:
– increasing the focus commercial/residential densification in the core
– significantly reducing residential sprawl
Q. Do you believe that the OCP has been truly integrated into the policies, budgets, business plans or development negotiations at the senior staff level?

Senior staff, through the CAO, are subject to the will of Council. I do not believe that the current Council has honoured the intent and principles of the OCP created with input by the citizens. It has made some progress in the downtown and should be acknowledged for that, but has failed dismally elsewhere to the point that citizens are actively crying out for solutions. Council has actively encouraged sprawl while paying lip service to the OCP, which it amends with alarming frequency. I look forward to bringing principles back into government in decision-making and implementation—the principles of the OCP.

7) The OCP, ALR boundaries, Metro Vancouver Plan, and Maps of Environmentally Sensitive areas in Maple Ridge provide a framework for development which is meant to curtail urban sprawl, preserve our agricultural lands and our green spaces, and protect the environment.
Q. If you are elected to council will your development decisions be guided by compliance with the Maple Ridge OCP, ALR boundaries, the Metro Vancouver Plan, and Maps of Environmentally Sensitive Areas?

Simply put, yes. I will decide based on the SPIRIT and INTENT of these documents, not the mere legalities. We must use a decision framework that preserves the interests of our children, in some cases by considering the entire province (ALR land), the region (Metro Vancouver Growth Strategy) and the creatures that cannot speak up for themselves (ESA management plan). This will provide us with a livable Maple Ridge.

8)The OCP is a “living document” and minor changes should from time to time take place. But the incumbent council has tried to make major changes to the OCP. Example: the Pelton farm exclusion application.
Q. Would you support such changes without a referendum? Do you support the exclusion of the Pelton farm from the ALR?

I am adamantly against removing a single acre from the ALR in Maple Ridge (my property is in the ALR). The ALR is a reserve for future needs, not a land bank, which is how it has been treated by past Council majorities. I would not support referendums for this topic because the ALR should not be negotiable any more. We have had more than 30 years to sort out land that was inappropriately included within it. It is time to accept the ALR and move on. This is the only way to reduce speculation on farmland and reduce land prices so that farmers can afford to farm on farmland. I hold this view despite my bias in favour of referendums on critical decisions in general. But the history of farmland in BC informs me on this issue. Protect it or lose it. I do not support the Pelton farm exclusion. We can boost our industry by other more effective means.

Municipal District

9) The Agricultural Advisory Committee’s mandate includes the protection of agricultural land and resources.
Q. Would you support forwarding all applications for development that would impact agricultural land, farming and resources to the AAC so that the AAC can aid council in their decision-making process?

Yes. As Vice Chair of the Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC), I would favour this procedure despite the substantial work it would entail of a volunteer body. At present, Council only forwards issues at its discretion, which has excluded major issues such as the Pelton land exclusion application and Albion Flats area plan. The AAC was represented at the charrette, but the charrette recommendations were ignored by Council because the public’s wishes did not satisfy Council’s preconceptions.

10) In successful communities in the lower mainland the direction of development is determined by the people who live in those communities. North Vancouver and West Vancouver (both with limited land base) have successfully pursued goals in development with close consultation of their communities. This is made possible by strong and lines of genuine communication. Municipal staff policy in these communities ensures that public input is integrated, supported in setting and achieving goals for stronger more vibrant communities. Recently, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has been praised for her style
of leadership and resulting successes for the Surrey community that presented many challenges. Her successes as a leader have been attributed to her;

  • high regard for community input and
  • will and determination to consistently and efficiently implement community input in real and meaningful ways.

Q. How successful has the District of Maple Ridge been in this regard? Senior Staff Level, Council /Mayor Level?

Honouring community input is an area that needs much work in Maple Ridge. Past Councils have been in such a hurry to develop that they have stifled debate and community consideration of important decisions. Input is always one-way in the processes used by Council. And our staff can only follow Council’s lead.
I propose to change some processes so that respectful dialogue is the normal mode of communication. We should not be scheduling important hearings in summer when people are on vacation. We should acknowledge community input (footnote it) in plans as they are developed so that the community can see how its input is incorporated. And we should increase transparency in decision making, by recording how individual councilors vote, by having citizen panels set wages, by using a municipal auditor, and by making our meetings available as podcasts on the website and some of the other methods of communication proposed by other candidates. We should also have a regular schedule of townhall meetings to collect input.

11) Other cities and districts regard the utilization and integration of community resources; that being time, energy and expertise, as being a modern, innovative and creative approach to solutions. Conversely, Maple Ridge communities have approached staff with concerns, possible solutions, and a willingness to community and collaborate. All too often they receive inadequate responses. Many times there seems to be a large gulf rift between senior staff and the community they serve.
Q. What do you feel is at the basis of this persistent problem? Is the rapid pace of development creating conflicting priories and placing too much strain on district staff? How high a priority is it to improve this situation and why? What solutions would you suggest to improve staff community relations?

Judging from what I am hearing from citizens, this area obviously requires much work. It has to be a priority because Council and government exist at the will of the people and must be responsive for success. I think you can attribute much of senior staff’s attitudes to those of Council. A change in Council will go a certain way in fixing some of this, but more is probably required. I do not yet have the definitive answer for fixing this, but am open to suggestions and the adoption of best practices from other jurisdictions. Perhaps a tour of Surrey’s city hall is in order. At the very minimum, I think we need to implement a fast feedback system into citizen dissatisfaction with staff interfaces. It can be as simple as a suggestion box, or an automatic survey question provided to citizens for Every interaction, or a District-wide tracking system using the communications network. Let’s get good feedback as well as constructive criticism. Council definitely has a role in improving relations between staff and citizens.

Neighborhood specific topics:

Alouette Valley Association
Recreation Roadway Proposal – The Alouette Valley could become a great resource for Maple Ridge if it were turned into a designated recreational area similar to what has been accomplished in many other municipalities. The area could attract tourists, green business, create employment and increase tax revenues. If you are not already familiar with this initiative please visit. www.avalley.ca
Q, Would you support such an initiative?

Yes, wholeheartedly. I like the proposal because it provides innovative solutions to real problems. It is a form of the http://www.completestreets.org/ form of development. I think we need to promote Maple Ridge as a rural destination and it will tie in well with our growing agro-tourism industry. The challenges may lay in financing it. But the sooner we start, the sooner it can be resolved. This is a good candidate for a Community Matching fund project because of the significant time and expertise invested by the neighbourhood in the plan.

Much has been made about creating “complete communities”, yet many developments have gone in without the promised infrastructure. Silver Valley is a prime example. There is only one road in or out and none of the promised shops, schools, recreational facilities etc. have been built.

Q. Does it make sense to push development forward without the infrastructure in place to support it?

No. It is a bit of a Catch 22. Silver Valley was originally conceived as a satellite town, NOT a suburb, which is how it was built. It represents leapfrog development. Council does not build shops or schools, and does not decide when a shop is viable. The business people and provincial government make these decisions. But like the Mosaic development in Osprey Village (Pitt Meadows), we can hold developers to building what they promise along a set timeline.

The proper solution is to develop slowly outward from the core so that businesses and school funding will naturally come because the demand is already there. I note the use of the word “push” in this question. We actually need a “pull” development strategy so that businesses will want to come to the community.

River Road Association
Older neighborhoods in Maple Ridge have seen exponential rises in traffic volume, especially if they are used as short cuts from East to West. The lifestyles of these neighborhoods have been badly impacted by speeding cars and discourteous drivers. Many neighborhoods have requested traffic calming measures but so far few measures have been implemented. Examples: River Road, Shady Lane 132 Ave. and 224 St., 128th Avenue.
Q. What would you do to help these neighborhoods?

I think we need to adopt a complete streets approach ( http://www.completestreets.org/) and to start budgeting for traffic calming measures. Being realistic, this may take some time to roll out. But what price can we place on public safety? There is a role for Council to seek senior government funding for these projects, instead of the cosmetic resurfacing of streets, like our $2.5 million Haney Bypass-Lougheed Highway resurfacing project.

Shady Lane Neighborhood Association
Cut Through Traffic in Residential Neighborhoods
Q. How will you, in the your role as Councilor/Mayor, prioritize and address the longstanding and acute problems of excessive volume and speed of traffic, and reckless driving, in residential neighborhoods which are the heart of this historic community

We now have a population of 80,000 and neighbouring cities (Mission) are adding more houses, which will add to traffic congestion, which is the source of your complaints. We can partially alleviate the strain on your neighborhood by slowing growth, but this is not the entire answer. We must look to examples such as the Vancouver West End, which installed traffic calming measures, and to the complete streets concepts, referenced twice above, to make streets more accessible to modes of transport other than cars. We can also use innovations like in Seattle (murals on intersections, etc.) that can be financed through Community Matching Funds. There are plenty of examples to emulate to solve or reduce the problems. The problems are not unique to here and people are working on this all over the world. What we need is the political will to solve the problems. Please vote accordingly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s