Improved access, a pro-business attitude and tax breaks drive real estate values
Sandy Blue remembers less than two years ago trying to give directions for getting to Maple Ridge, one of B.C.’s largest municipalities, from the U.S. border.
Then, the city’s manager of economic development explains, it was all about the size and type of vehicle, ferry schedules or, more likely, recommended detours through Mission or Coquitlam.
Now, of course, it is a straight, 30-minute drive from the border to the Trans Canada and across the new Golden Ears Bridge into Maple Ridge. Gone, too, is the infamous bottleneck at Pitt River, where a new multi-lane bridge was completed this year to cut the commute into the rest of Metro Vancouver.
But the old days of awkward access to Maple Ridge have left one legacy: real estate prices in this community of 75,000 remain the lowest of all major Metro Vancouver municipalities.
For example, the median price of a detached house in Maple Ridge is $1.1 million less than on the west side of Vancouver and $210,000 less than in Coquitlam, which is minutes away. The typical ’Ridge condominium apartment sells for $245,750, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver – about $150,000 less than the regional average. And in all cases, it is likely that the Maple Ridge home will be larger, and newer, than in most Metro areas.
“Maple Ridge is really undervalued,” Blue said.
The demand, however, may soon drive prices higher. In the first six months of this year, 612 houses sold in Maple Ridge, second only to Richmond/South Delta and well ahead of much larger Burnaby and Coquitlam.
The ending of the ferry that once carried lineups of cars and trucks across the Fraser River has made the Albion area one of the hottest housing markets in the Lower Mainland, Blue said, with a rush of new construction in an area once known for large lots, older homes and impatient ferry traffic.
Last year, the Alberta-based Real Estate Investment Network named Maple Ridge the No. 2 location in which to invest in B.C.
“When people call us about this, they discover a whole world of information,” said Blue. In addition to established industries of agriculture and forestry, Maple Ridge plans to grow in high-tech, multimedia, education and tourism.
“We’re a prime location for investment in hotels, attractions and amenities,” she added.
For instance, the construction of a new condominium project of more than five storeys would trigger a two-year property tax holiday. Build it to green LEED standards, and the building could be allowed a further two years of tax exemption.
Maple Ridge is concentrating on downtown housing incentives, Blue said, because “if you have residential, retail will follow.”
The plan is working: in the past two years, the city has accepted permit applications for about 1,200 new condominiums.
The downtown of Maple Ridge is centred at 240th Street around Lougheed Highway and Dewdney Trunk Road. The area is currently a blend of funky old and newly chic, which one Vancouver observer called a “mix of Commercial Drive and South Granville.”
For Blue, however, the aim is to develop the core along the lines of Newport Village in Port Moody, a successful mix of highrise condos, upscale retail and new amenity buildings.
Right now, the community is putting the final touches on a plan to “jump-start” core development, which may mean expanding the tax incentives, geographically, Blue said.
The city has also invested heavily in infrastructure, with $5.6 million spent on sewers, water lines and fibre-optic links, as well as more visible paving and streetscapes in the Town Centre.
“The new infrastructure makes Maple Ridge very attractive,” said Mike Shardlow, chair, Maple Ridge Economic Advisory Commission. “We have very affordable and, now, very accessible land.” Shardlow sees some of the best opportunities in industrial land and small-scale manufacturing.
The ’Ridge area industrial vacancy rate is about 5 per cent, according to Cushman Wakefield Lepage, but no new warehouse construction is underway.
Land prices are among the lowest in the region, with an acre of serviced industrial, starting at $600,000, about half the price of Burnaby or Coquitlam. Since the Golden Ears Bridge opened, industrial land prices in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows corridor have nearly doubled.
Maple Ridge is also catching the attention of the high-tech community, said Rochelle Grayson, board member and acting president of New Media BC.
This “creative class” likes being involved in sports and being active but wants a small-town feel with a strong centre, she explained, and Maple Ridge stands primed to be that hub.
“I was impressed with the strong sense of community in Maple Ridge. These people want work-life balance and they don’t want to wait until they’re retired to get it,” Grayson said.
An example of how Maple Ridge is business-friendly is the unique BizPal software package, developed with the province and the federal government. BizPal is an online permit and licence service that helps entrepreneurs start up faster, explained Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin.
Entrepreneurs can use BizPaL to receive a personalized list of the permits and licences needed to establish and run their businesses. It’s designed to cut through the paperwork burden small businesses face, said Daykin.
Blue’s advice to would-be homebuyers and investors: get in now because Maple Ridge will not be undervalued for long.