Mike Clay grew up in Moody Centre. He watched as the neighbourhood transformed from Port Moody’s heart to a hodge-podge assemblage of single-family homes, auto body shops and light industrial when civic facilities like city hall and the library were shifted east to Ioco Road.
Now, Clay says his mission is to get that heart beating with residents and shops again.
If he’s given a third term as Port Moody’s mayor by voters in the Oct. 20 civic election, Clay said reinvigorating Moody Centre and realizing its potential will be his priority — and the arrival of SkyTrain almost two years ago has made that imperative.
“There’s a lot of opportunities there to allow affordable housing that feeds the transit station,” Clay said. “That area is under-utilized and underdeveloped. It isn’t performing to provide an amenity to the city.”
Clay said his vision for the 20 acres between St. Johns Street and the Moody Centre Evergreen Extension station, from Moody Street in the west to Electronic Avenue in the east, includes high-density housing in a mix of highrises and low-rises, shops to service those residents, places for them to work, gather and play, all without having to climb into a car.
The general concept was approved by council last spring. Now it needs to happen, Clay said.
“We can build it as an anchor for the community,” he said. “That will keep developers from wandering into other neighbourhoods.”
Clay said in the 13 years since he was first elected to city council, he has seen — and had a hand in — the city’s transformation from the city in which he grew up, “a town with a mill and a couple of strip clubs in it,” to a vibrant urban community known for its natural environs, restaurants and craft breweries where people want to live, lay down roots and raise families.
But Clay admitted that success has brought challenges such as affordability, traffic and pressure on the city’s amenities, including recreation spaces.
Clay said keeping Port Moody affordable for families will be achieved by working with developers to build more projects like Woodbridge Properties’ planned six-storey rental building on St. Johns Street, which will be the first purpose-built rental project in the city in 30 years, as well as deploying new provincial legislation to zone areas of the city like the Woodview Park townhomes in Seaview specifically for rental housing.
Clay said Port Moody’s traffic challenges are also being dealt with by a $10-million investment that will change the flow of vehicles on some major thoroughfares, create new signalized intersections, add bike infrastructure, improve pedestrian safety and transit access. Funds from future development will add another $20 million to build new crossings over the railway tracks that bisect the city and new access points to the Barnet Highway.
Amenities like a new library, seniors' housing and more recreation facilities to service Port Moody’s growing population are trickier to achieve, Clay said, because they’re expensive and residents won’t stand for a huge tax hit to pay for them.
“You don’t tax for $50 million to build a library,” he said. “That would be unattainable.”
That’s why leveraging the assets the city already has — such as the vacant property at the corner of Ioco Road and Murray Street that used to house the fire hall as well as the nearby public works yard, which is designated for relocation — is important, Clay said. A plan to do just that by selling the properties to a private developer who would then be required to include provisions for public amenities in their development proposal was put on hold when council decided to gauge public opinion on the idea with a non-binding referendum question in conjunction with the civic vote following a contentious public hearing (for more on the referendum, see story on page 15).
“There’s a million other places you could put a garden that would be better suited than at the busiest intersection in the city,” Clay said of the criticism of the plan. “You should capitalize on that land to get the best return for your taxpayers.”
Clay said fears Port Moody is on a path of wild, unfettered growth are largely result of the city’s complete lack of growth for much of the past decade, when Port Moody's population grew by just 540 people between 2011 and ’16. He said as the city works to achieve its goal of 50,000 residents by 2041, it will build “properly” by taking advantage of access to transit, concentrating density around its two SkyTrain stations and creating more opportunities for residents to work, shop and play locally while preserving established neighbourhoods.
“You need people to make those things happen,” he said.