Craig Speirs

Thank you for the opportunity to address some of your concerns. Forgive me for the length of some of my answers its just that the questions are so good they need full answers. I just wish other neighbourhoods would of joined you and maybe the next time you could include them. Strong involved neighbourhoods create strong communities.

Vision:
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?

It means we have a history and if we use it as our solid base we can reach farther. Using the past to inform the future, so to speak. It also suggests a lifespan and my planning context goes out about 150 years. I like to think of how what we will look and feel like when we are fully built out. Decisions made today will lead us to that maturity. Day to day work has to fit into this vision which I believe has been refined over many years through public discourse. Many politicians fall into the trap of a three year cycle; it leads to short term decisions that satisfy short term needs. The analogy of a tree fits this future if our roots are firmly grounded in our history we can grow strong and healthy.

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.

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

We have made many mistakes with sprawl development over the years and this council has continued this tradition. Take a look at the mess on the north side of Thornhill on Bosonworth or on Dewdney at 264th, this type of low density sprawl hurts the environment and creates neighbourhoods that are very difficult to service. The influence of the development community on council is firmly rooted and quite often the quality of life for the whole community has come second to the private interests of a few. We can end this undue influence and move forward but we have to do it on purpose. I am committed to staying within the Urban Boundary (excluding Thornhill) and applying more control over how we develop the areas we have committed to. The contrasts are the approachs to storm water management in Rock Ridge and the other side of the hill on the Portrait Homes site. The first one just forces water into a pipe resulting in downstream scouring while the other has taken an innovative approach using a method that slows down storm water and slowly infiltrates it into the ground. This innovative approach has won many awards culminating with being declared the best residential development for storm water management in Canada a couple of years ago. If we always seek to be leaders in how we develop or redevelop neighbourhoods we can improve our quality of life as our community grows.

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?

Growth is part of our economic plan and at this point it’s not an even playing field. Development in emerging or sprawl areas pays for the pipes and pavement but it don’t pay for the so called soft services you mentioned. They add to the tax base but they don’t pay for extending those services, there is a contribution gap and it’s the essence of the inefficiency of this type of development. On the other hand, development downtown, or within established neighbourhoods, use infrastructure that is already bought and paid for and contributes in a positive way to these services so in a real sense growth within the urban boundary subsidizes suburban sprawl. There are ways we can close this gap with the most effective way simply being to not approve developments that result in sprawl. It will take a council dedicated to applying more discipline by keeping development within the Urban Boundary and by applying Smart Growth principles. We are a growing community and to avoid huge sporadic increases in taxes, the municipality has embraced the small bite approach, which is both prudent and predictable, and set its tax at a steady rate of 4% per year. This approach has allowed us to buy the Core project and now allows us to set money aside, 1% per year in an Infrastructure Replacement Fund for when the big repair bills come in. Zero tax increases are actually a negative number when you count in 2% inflation and community improvements we are committed to. New growth covers off some of the costs but we should also look at how growth affects the future of the community as a liveable place, it has to be a positive and lasting addition to the fabric of our community. I would love to demand more from growth but to do that I need three more votes on council. I don’t believe it would be healthy to stop growth but we could do a better job of directing it so we can grow in a more disciplined and cost effective fashion.

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?

I believe the development processes are handled very well. We have professional staff that applies the rules for development and intercedes with the ALC to ensure farming is done in an appropriate manner and within the rules we control. We refused to send an application for a huge fill farm on 108th in Whonnock which wouldn’t benefit agriculture in any way. In the Alouette Valley we have a very different situation where an active farmer is working within the rules to improve his farm and make it more productive. There has been a huge amount of scrutiny of what he is doing by professionals from the ALC and district staff. What has developed is a conflict between residential needs and farming needs that isn’t very healthy and needs to be re-thought. I have said repeatedly that both sides need to win. The farmer needs to be able to protect his farm and the residential folks need to protect their homes. The valley will flood again, the North Alouette is a wild river that has flooded thousands of times and will flood thousands of times more. No amount of blame or recrimination will change that. Through the Flooding Task Force we are starting to see a way forward and we need to allow this process to complete. I hope to be part of that process in a way that will lower the temperature and allow these neighbours to get along.

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.?.

Maple Ridge was the first community member of Smart Growth BC and is an excellent example of the good and the bad. We were also the first community to do Smart Growth On the Ground work in our downtown and its working. As mentioned, this council is still allowing the development of one acre lots which are the exact opposite of Smart Growth, its is a waste of time and precious resources. Smart Growth principals are the way of that future if we apply them to build healthy, sustainable communities. We need to make the necessary changes to our OCP and with a new council that embraces the concepts of sustainable growth and moves with the times.

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?

Our OCP is the central policy document that defines the growth of our community. It is completely understood by staff, after all they wrote it. Unfortunately, it is enacted through a political process that politicians can use to change it as they wish. Staff has to comply with the decisions made by council. Our OCP is flawed it allows far too much sprawl, we need to fix it.

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?

Yes, I will be directed by all of our planning documents and seek changes to any that encourage urban sprawl, that don’t protect agricultural lands, green spaces or the environment.

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?

The only major changes I would make are the removal of the Thornhill Urban reserve and the removal of suburban sprawl sections. I would, of course, do this through a public process but I couldn’t commit to referenda without going through that public process. For example, the Pelton file was sent to the ALC without a public hearing in Maple Ridge. Members of this past council dismissed your many concerns and did not act in the community’s best interest. The council members who took campaign money from the Pelton’s prior to the last election, were in my view in a conflict of interest on this application but did not remove themselves from the process. The Pelton file was sent in to the ALC to remove farmland and to address a need that didn’t exist and that’s why I could never support it. This was once again the old way of doing business, doing something for the few against the best interest for the community. This is what gives politicians a bad name, but not all politicians are like this. Some, like myself, feel entrusted with wanting to making a better community for all of the citizens, for now and into the future. The people deserve politicians who will do the right things for the right reasons.

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?

I think the AAC should stay away from land use decisions. It would be easy to politicize this committee to sanitize bad decisions. The AAC needs to be able to advocate for farming, farmers and farmland. We have to be careful not take on the functions of senior governments or interfere with agencies like the ALC. I think there will be plenty of opportunities to engage the AAC in meaningful work but at this point land use shouldn’t be part of that work. I don’t trust that other council members are committed to the AAC’s mandate to protect agricultural and its resources.

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?

I think we could do better, letting the Pelton file go in without a Maple Ridge public process was a crime and shouldn’t be repeated. Make no mistake, this isn’t a staff issue, it’s a political issue that needs politicians to ask for more communication and meaningful consultation. Just like in Surrey.

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?

The short answer would be to hire more staff. We have a very lean staffing level with almost every staff member doing multiple things off the side of their desks. Our staff is incredible but they can’t do everything. Council hasn’t helped this situation with certain members piling new things on the staff all the time so the council member can be seen to be busy. One thing I know is sometimes the answer to a request is “no” or it’s not what the citizen wants to hear. Timely answers to requests can take a back seat when you have piles of work on your desk and a boss or council demanding more. I think that part of the problem is council members giving false hope to a person’s concern and then blaming staff for not being responsive. A scapegoat so to speak. I have suggested an ombudsman in the past to help in these situations. Personally, I respond to any real issue or concern and try to facilitate communication between the citizen and staff. I think that this is role of an elected representative.

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?

I have supported this concept from the first time I heard about it. It fits perfectly with my vision of a sustainable future. It will work for all the reasons you mention but I would go further all the way to Golden Ears Park. I would also include the Golden Ears Way/128th/Abernethy corridor. To make any portion of it to work we have develop an incremental plan and embed it within a capital plan.

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?

A recent report detailed some of the options available to us. Some are easier to achieve than others and all options have cost implications. I want to do what we can within a budget we can afford. Some options will be as easy as a line of paint but when we need right of way or road building it gets expensive quickly. We have about $2 million available every year and many projects could eat up twice that amount. I think we need a prescription for each neighbourhood that considers the effect of all the traffic changes that have occurred. It will cost a lot of money to apply the prescriptions so options to funding and timing of projects will have to be considered. We could fix everything right away but we would have to raise taxes and that I can’t support.

Silver Valley Neighborhood Association

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?

We do have a plan for another access at 240th which I support and is in our long term capital plan it will be contingent on matching funding from senior government. Commercial activity will commence when there are enough people to make it work. Transit also needs density in order to expand. Recreational facilities will also have to wait till there are enough people in place. Schools are beyond council’s responsibility, we have tried working with the School Board to establish join park/school sites and the ministry won’t allow the expenditures. We will continue to try but it is frustrating. Silver Valley is a growth area and I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting a moratorium in place but the school issue is the one that might convince me to do so.

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

There has been an increase of 18,000 cars in Maple ridge within the last 10 years and every one of them seems to be in a rush to get somewhere. As I mentioned in the River Road segment above we have a limited budget to deal with all capital projects so we will have to be very strategic in how we apply traffic control options. It can be a simple fix or a more complex one. With Shady Lane we have spent $500,000 to put a sidewalk in place this year for pedestrian safety and have promised to look at some other options for traffic calming but sometimes the best fix is to make other routes more attractive. I look forward to making this beautiful section of road even better.

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