Developers are launching projects that coincide with the completion of the new $650-million Golden Ears bridge and the $180-million Pitt River bridge expansion, which link Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows with Langley and Port Coquitlam, respectively, and the rest of the Lower Mainland.
Both bridge projects are tied to the provincial government's controversial $3.5-billion Gateway transportation infrastructure program. Critics allege Gateway will eventually lead to more traffic congestion, pollution and urban sprawl, while supporters claim it will enhance the flow of goods and people across the Lower Mainland and to other parts of B.C. and the rest of Canada.
New developments in Maple Ridge include Silver Ridge, an award-winning 105-acre single family-home parkland community being developed by Richmond-based Portrait Homes Ltd. at 232nd Street and 138th Avenue.
Approximately 135 of 400 homes have been built so far. Until now, the site has contained only single-family homes, but the recently launched fourth phase includes townhouses.
|Illustration courtesy of ParkLane Homes|
|Developers are launching projects that coincide with the completion of the new $650-million Golden Ears bridge and the $180-million Pitt River bridge expansion, which link Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows with Langley and Port Coquitlam, respectively, and the rest of the Lower Mainland.|
"Everyone (in the development community) is watching quite closely what's going on in terms of affordability," says Harry Grimm, a principal in Portrait and a director with the Pacific chapter of the Urban Development Institute. "As costs continue to go up, and we have to reflect that in our pricing, I think you'll see a shift to condos and townhouses."
Portrait has secured sizable chunks of land for future development in Maple Ridge. Grimm, who operates the firm with his brother Robert, says it's difficult to compare present activity with past trends, but warns developers have to be realistic in wake of the rapidly rising costs.
"People have got stars in their eyes," says Grimm, adding developers who can get in and out of projects quickly will do the best.
Typically, prices have been lower in Maple Ridge than in Surrey and Langley. But as the Golden Ears bridge has drawn closer to completion, the differential has disappeared.
"Maple Ridge was really forgotten about for the longest time," says Grimm.
"We had one corridor in and one corridor out."
He also foresees increased development in Pitt Meadows, although his firm does not now operate there.
"That whole (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows) corridor has been destined for expansion and growth," says Grimm. "The whole issue was access from a transportation point of view."
Russell Westcott and Don Campbell of the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN), co-authors of the Gateway Effect research report, predict Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are going to win what Campbell has dubbed the "Gateway lottery."
The report forecasts housing prices will rise 20 per cent above the Lower Mainland market by 2009, and downturns will be 10-20 per cent less severe than in other Greater Vancouver municipalities.
"You will see a lot of knocking down and new housing," says Westcott.
The REIN provides market analysis and educational services for clients across Canada.
Westcott says the impending boom has already started in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. "We call these the high-risk dollars," says Westcott. "(Developers) are going in. They're buying some land on speculation."
Like other Lower Mainland municipalities, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are limited by a lack of available land. But the bridges will open up the suburban municipalities to Vancouver's core and lead to more high-density housing and industrial and commercial developments over the next decade.
"(Developers) will start building up instead of out because they can't build out anymore," says Westcott.
Maple Ridge is appealing to many buyers because its housing remains affordable.
But Westcott warns affordability will become a "red flag" in the future if prices continue to rise rapidly.
Housing development has been sporadic in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows for most of the past two decades. The communities usually do not see increases in the number of homes built from one year to the next.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. figures show total housing completions declined 6.3 per cent, to 430 from 459, in Maple Ridge between 2004 and 2005. But multi-family building development ballooned 270 per cent to 100 units from 27.
In Pitt Meadows, total completions increased 14.2 per cent to 153 from 134, while multi-family units rose 37 per cent to 56 from 41 between 2004 and 2005.
Ken Ambrose, an agent with ReMax Ridge Meadows Realty, which covers Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, says housing inventories have struggled to keep up with demand.
Citing Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver statistics, he says the number of new homes in Maple Ridge increased 11 per cent to 111 in June from 100 in the same month last year, and the average price of a new home soared 30 per cent to $490,000 from $377,000.
The average price of a new home in Pitt Meadows went up 38 per cent to $470,000 in June from $341,000 in June of 2005.
"Condos are another one that are (hot)," says Ambrose.
Maple Ridge apartment-building sales also increased in the first six months of this year, according to the father-and-son team of David and Mark Goodman of Vancouver-based Macdonald Commercial Real Estate Services Ltd., who publish the Goodman Report.
The average Maple Ridge apartment-unit price more than doubled to $83,395 from $40,727 last year as six buildings changed hands, compared to only two in 2005.
"What people like about (Maple Ridge), of course, is the fact there is a bridge going across the Fraser River," says David Goodman.
Goodman says the Golden Ears bridge will lead to the development of more commercial and industrial properties.
Fort Langley is one community in particular that will boost development because of the bridge, he adds. ParkLane Homes is already quite active in Fort Langley, assembling the $400-million Bedford Landing project that includes 194 single-family homes, 84 row homes and 100 adult-oriented apartments.
Ross Sullivan, a spokesman for Vancouver-based ParkLane, says Bedford Landing is probably the biggest development to be affected by the Golden Ears bridge.
(Monte Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)