Metro Vancouver's new draft regional growth strategy raises concerns

By Elizabeth Murphy

The new Draft Regional Growth Strategy, November 2009 (RGS) is now out for public consultation. Although there are some superficial changes from the last draft, the issues previously raised have not been adequately addressed, and in many ways the new draft increases concerns.

The main concerns are:

1. This new draft is even weaker than the previous draft with regard to the region's most important roles: the protection of green zones and the prevention of urban sprawl.

2. The new draft continues to maintain unsupportable levels of regional control over municipal Official Community Plans and municipal planning processes for development.

3. TransLink exerts a heavy influence over land-use decisions in Metro Vancouver through its say in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy and Regional Context Statements, and its role in the development of Frequent Transit Development Corridors.

4. TransLink's provincial mandate to use real estate development as a source of funding based on the Hong Kong model is a systemic conflict of interest with TransLink's influence in land use policy.

5. The new draft is proposing "Renewable Energy Generation" from wood and plant sources that is not sustainable.

1. Weak Green Zone Protection

The process required to make any changes to the green zone boundary, whether it is Agricultural, Rural, Conservation, or Recreation in the Regional Growth Strategy, all require a Metro Board 2/3 vote plus a public hearing. This should be a 100% vote as per the previous Livable Region Strategic Plan, instead of the new 2/3 vote requirement.

Conservation/Recreation Areas: These areas of the green zones in the last draft were shown as partly outside and partly inside of the Urban Containment Boundary (UCB). All the green zones should be outside of the UCB, but the new RGS draft Map 1 instead has all the green zones (except the ALR) inside the Urban Containment Boundary. This is just the opposite of what was recommended to exclude all green zones outside of the Urban Containment Boundaries. This even includes major parks such as Stanley Park, Pacific Spirit Park, UBC Endowment Lands, and the waterfront park system. This would allow the conversion of green conservation zones to urban development without the requirement to amend the Urban Containment Boundary.

Agricultural and Rural Lands: The RGS allows lands presently designated as Agricultural or Rural within the ALR to be converted to Industrial without amending the RGS as long as the Agricultural Land Commission has excluded the parcel from the ALR and the parcel is contiguous (near) or within the Urban Containment Boundary. If no amendment to the RGS is required, then redesignation only requires acceptance of the Regional Context Statement with a Metro Board vote of 50%+1 and no public hearing.

Exclusions from the Agricultural Land Reserve: Map 11 of the RGS draft now has 'Special Study Areas' redesignated for potential removal from the ALR. The RGS states: "6.2.8 Metro Vancouver may accept a Regional Context Statement without amending the Regional Growth Strategy for the Special Study Areas shown on Map 11." Again, if no amendment to the RGS is required, then once the Agricultural Land Commission has released it from the ALR, redesignation of the Special Study Areas only requires acceptance of the Regional Context Statement with a Metro Board vote of 50%+1 and no public hearing.

Green Zones Reclassified for Development: The North Shore green zones are now classified as urban. Bowen Island now has only a small area shown as green zone with most of the island open for development.

2. Regional Control of Municipal Development Planning Process

The Regional Growth Strategy is designed to direct development at the municipal level through Regional Context Statements as shown in Figure 8 from page 52 of the RGS.

Figure 8: Relationship Between the Regional Growth Strategy and Official Community Plans

Each municipality prepares an updated Official Community Plan (OCP) and Regional Context Statement (RCS) within two years of the adoption of a new Regional Growth Strategy. The RCS sets out the relationship between the Regional Growth Strategy and the municipality’s OCP, and identifies how local actions will contribute to achieving Regional Growth Strategy goals. Municipalities must submit their RCS to the Metro Vancouver Board for acceptance. If Metro Vancouver does not accept the RCS, this triggers a resolution process as set out in legislation.

As shown above, this gives Metro Vancouver effective control of municipal Official Community Plans. If a municipality wants to amend the Official Community Plan, or make zoning/development policy changes, these changes must be consistent with Regional Context Statements (RCS). The process for amending the RCS is as shown on Figure 9 from page 55 of the RGS.

Figure 9: Land Use Designation and Regional Growth Strategy Amendment Process (click on image for larger version)

The RGS further says: "If, after Board adoption of a Regional Context Statement, a municipality proposes to amend its Official Community Plan and the amendment will affect the Regional Context Statement, the municipality must consult with Metro Vancouver before proceeding with the Official Community Plan amendment."

The Regional Context Statements are detailed plans that must include all land use decisions, even at the neighbourhood level which now includes the Neighbourhood Centres as well as Urban Centres.

3. The RGS Gives TransLink Substantial Influence in the Municipal Development Process

Although the wording in the previous draft RGS that required TransLink review of all major developments has been dropped, there still is a substantial role for TransLink in the RGS and the municipal development process.

TransLink Approval of RGS: Page 7 in the RGS, Linkages to Other Plans, states: "TransLink is required to consider and accept Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy." TransLink's authority is noted in a Metro Vancouver staff report dated June 30, 2009, which states: “While TransLink is only required to consult Metro Vancouver on their 10-year plan, TransLink is considered an 'affected local government' for the purposes of ratification of the Regional Growth Strategy and have the authority to accept or not accept the Regional Growth Strategy. If there is no acceptance, then the Local Government Act provides a dispute resolution process.”

TransLink's Review of Amendments to Industrial Areas: TransLink is also required on page 25 of the RGS, in section 2.2.5, to review any Regional Context Statement amendments to redesignate Industrial areas. Although there may be merit in having some limited regional protection of Industrial Areas, TransLink should not be given this role.

Additional Provincial Legislation: The RGS on page 49 also refers to a Transportation Demand Management Strategy that is to be reinforced through Provincial legislation. This is defined in the glossary as "Strategies, other than increasing supply, that alter the pattern of transportation demand." In other words, land use policy.

TransLink Influence in Frequent Transit Development Corridors: Land use policies within Frequent Transit Development Corridors are significantly influenced by TransLink. The RGS states on page 48, that: "The role of municipalities is to: 5.1.5 Develop Regional Context Statements that include policies and maps which: a) in consultation with TransLink and Metro Vancouver, identify suitable locations and supporting land use policies for Frequent Transit Development Corridors". Page 53, section 6.4.2, states: "Where municipalities propose to designate, in an Official Community Plan and Regional Context Statement, lands to be Frequent Transit Development Corridors, formal comments from TransLink will be considered by the Metro Vancouver Board when it determines whether to accept the Regional Context Statement." Since the City of Vancouver could potentially be blanketed by the Frequent Transit Development Corridors, TransLink could be involved in all land use decision across the entire City.

TransLink Influence in Amendments to Regional Context Statements: Page 52, section 6.2.5, states: "Where a Regional Context Statement or an amendment to a Regional Context Statement is submitted which proposes to designate lands as Frequent Transit Development Corridors, such submissions must be accompanied by formal comments from TransLink on the proposed designation."

TransLink Approval Required for Amendments to the RGS: TransLink is defined as an Affected Local Government and as such any amendments to the RGS require TransLink's approval as outlined on page 54-55, 6.7.1, which states: "The following are considered to be amendments to the Regional Growth Strategy that require the unanimous consent of affected local governments:
a) addition or deletion of Regional Growth Strategy goals or strategies; or
b) an amendment to the process for making minor amendments to the Regional Growth Strategy, specified in section 6.7.2.

“6.7.2 All amendments to the Regional Growth Strategy other than the amendments specified in section 6.7.1 and housekeeping amendments specified in 6.7.4 are considered minor amendments for the purposes of Section 857.1(2) of the Local Government Act. Minor amendments will be made by bylaw on an affirmative Board vote of two-thirds of the weighted votes cast. Minor amendments may be initiated by the Board or by municipality resolution. Minor amendments include, for example, the following:
a) amendments to the Land Use Designation area boundaries shown on Map 1;
b) addition or deletion of an Urban Centre;
c) addition or deletion of, or amendment to policy actions listed under each strategy;
d) amendments to Map 9 (Regional Transit Markets) and Map 10 (Regional Roads Concept)."

Page 55, section 6.7.3, states: "After a minor amendment has been proposed, the Metro Vancouver Board will: a) evaluate the proposal, including where appropriate, considering whether the proposed minor amendment: ... v) is consistent with TransLink’s strategic area and/or service plans". As an Affected Local Government, if TransLink disagrees with the Metro Board decision, there is a dispute resolution process.

TransLink's Frequent Transit Network: Frequent Transit Development Corridors are based on TransLink's Frequent Transit Network which includes every bus route in the City of Vancouver. The corridors are defined as being up to 800 metres either side of transit, which would blanket the entire City. Although the RGS does not have the map of these networks, the RGS refers to TransLink's Transport 2040 that provides the maps on page 34-35 (18 of 22) and TransLink's 10 Year Plan.

Examples of Potential Frequent Transit Development Corridors: There are two transit corridors presently in the planning process in the City of Vancouver:

Diagram 1: Cambie Line Corridor

The Cambie Line Corridor covers many city blocks on either side of Cambie from 16th Avenue to Marine Drive.

Diagram 2: UBC Line Corridor

The UBC Line Corridor which covers 16th Avenue to 4th Avenue from Commercial Drive to UBC.

4. TransLink's Land Use Influence and Role as Developer Creates a Systemic Conflict of Interest

This all leads to TransLink's mandate through Provincial legislation to use real estate development for funding based on the Hong Kong model. As an unelected board, TransLink is in the role of both a developer and having land use regulatory influence, which creates a systemic conflict of interest. Further, the funds raised by TransLink's development are not necessarily required go to specific transit projects. Funds raised by development in the City of Vancouver could go towards roads and bridges such as the Gateway Project in the suburbs.

Page 17 of the RGS, section 1.2.5, states: "That TransLink, the federal and provincial governments and their agencies’ procurement, disposition and development plans and actions for land holdings support the objectives of the Regional Growth Strategy". This strengthens TransLink's legislated mandate as developer.

5. Unsustainable Energy Generation Proposed

The RGS also includes references to 'Renewable Energy Generation' that is defined to include wood and plants as fuel sources (i.e., biofuels from wood pellets or canola oil). There already isn't enough waste wood to supply traditional uses and the forest industry is running out of beetle-killed wood, so is now going after protected areas. Canola oil for fuel is proven to be problematic on food crops.


The revised Draft Regional Growth Strategy, November 2009, should not be supported as proposed. The draft RGS is too weak on Green Zone protection; allows too much Regional and TransLink control over municipal land use policy; and is not a sustainable plan.

Related Public Consultations

Regional Growth Strategy: The upcoming public consultation, which provides meetings as posted and allows public feedback until January 29, 2010.
Vancouver Meeting: Mon. January 25 - Plaza 500 Hotel, 500 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver
7 – 9 pm (registration opens 6:30 pm)
Email: Fax: 604-436-6970
Mail: Metro Vancouver, Regional Development, 4330 Kingsway, Burnaby, B.C. V5H 4G8
Reference: RGS Details and Maps:

TransLink UBC Line Rapid Transit Study Stakeholder Workshop: 6:30pm--9:30pm Monday 18 January 2010: Ballroom of the Plaza 500 Hotel, 500 W. 12th.
Registration begins 6pm.
Register to attend by Fri 8 Jan to

City of Vancouver Principles for the UBC Line Corridor: The City has had no public consultation to date on their proposed principles. The only opportunity for public input will be when it comes to Council possibly at the following date (City yet to confirm): Transportation and Traffic Meeting 9:30 am Jan. 19, 2010. No advanced copy is available for viewing until the report is posted for the Council meeting.

Elizabeth Murphy has a background in development and urban land economics.

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Greg Booth

Jan 8, 2010 at 5:27pm

This clearly is a well-researched article, highlighting strategic policy changes that are being made without the public's full understanding of their short and long-term implications. Although the article is detailed, its content is important, and deserves our attention.

Approving policy that provides for Metro Vancouver control over local governments' (e.g., Vancouver's) Official Community Plans is a fork in the road that will increase the distance between communities and decisions that affect their futures. Also to provide TransLink, who has a functioning real estate division, with a mandate to use real estate as a source of revenue (or debt), while influencing zoning policy in our city should be a concern for all residents. Residents and local businesses along the "Broadway Corridor" should expect to see impacts of these policies sooner rather than later. There are many green-washing aspects to this proposed policy, which, if Vancouver is indeed to be the "greenest city on earth", our City Council should not be supporting. These are important topics, in an excellent article.

8 8Rating: 0


Jan 8, 2010 at 10:08pm

Far too much data for a short answer, but in a nutshell, Zwei believes what the game is.

The province forces Translink to plan for only metro transit solutions. Metro (SkyTrain & RAV), can cost up to 10 times more to build than LRT (TTC ART Study). Because metro needs far more ridership (transit customers) than LRT to justify construction costs, the myth has been made that "rapid transit needs more density along its route."

By creating more density, which will hopefully feed the metro, land adjacent the metro line is up-zoned to higher density (high rise construction), which creates windfall profits for landowners.

Thus the government is using metro as a tool to increase property values for political friends along the transit route, thus metro or rapid transit is build on routes where friends of the government owns properties.

The downside of densification is that if the metro doesn't go where the new residents want to go, they will take the car instead and higher densities, increases taxes, driving out small businesses & poorer people to cheaper locations, ill served by transit, again necessitating the car.

Point of logic: If LRT can be built up to one tenth the cost of metro, then it needs one tenth of its density to sustain it!

7 10Rating: -3

Richard C

Jan 9, 2010 at 3:25pm

Zwei, there is overwhelming evidence that higher densities increase transit usage, encourage walking and decrease automobile use.

8 5Rating: +3

Adam C. Sieracki

Jan 9, 2010 at 5:54pm

The problem in Vancouver, Calgary (where I live), the GTA and every other Canadian metro area is population growth. There is no way this can be 'sustainably managed', when over 250,000 people are added to Canadian cities annually. Aside from loss of farmland (less than 5% of Canada is arable) and the destruction of wilderness areas, our freshwater supplies are already dangerously overtaxed. Really, the only reason for Canada's insanely-high immigration levels is to buoy the real estate bubble. Bill C-428 exposed the myth that mass immigration is about things like keeping the pension system solvent. Without constant, high population growth, there is no need for new housing developments and associated infrastructure (roads, schools).

'Environmentalists' have been completely co-opted by political correctness (i.e., criticising mass immigration) and corporate donations. The David Suzuki Foundation is largely funded by RBC and BMO-Financial, who have lobbied for nearly DOUBLING our immigration intake. Regardless of how New Urbanist housing developments are, this is simply not sustainable. Simply put, a growing population means higher food prices, water shortages, more congestion, more CO2 emissions (people moving from warm countries to furnace-dependant Canada), and a host of social and political ills (CSIS estimates that the resources exist to screen only 10% of LEGAL immigrants for criminality and terrorism). If we want to save our environment and country, we have to stand up to the financial, construction/development and immigration lobbies.

8 5Rating: +3


Jan 9, 2010 at 11:50pm

Quote: "Zwei, there is overwhelming evidence that higher densities increase transit usage, encourage walking and decrease automobile use."

This is not true.

If, say 10% of the population use transit and the area density is 2,000 per km/2 then about 200 people will use transit.

If area density is 4,000 per km/2 then about 400 people will use transit but the downside is many more will use the car.

The trick is to create a higher percentage of people using transit or creating a modal shift from car to transit and building expensive SkyTrain style metros have failed to achieve this. The only way to pretend to increase ridership is to increase the density along the route in hope of attracting more transit customers! In the end, yes more customers use transit, but at the same time, more people use cars! Hence Vancouver's endemic gridlock.

There is grave error being made in Vancouver that density alone is needed to improve public transit ridership, but this ignores the singular fact that despite now over $8 billion being spent on metro (SkyTrain & RAV) only about 12% to 13% of the regional population use public transit.

Added to this, car ownership is increasing dramatically in the region.

To attract customers to transit, we must make transit to serve the needs of customers, not the needs of property owners. In Vancouver we have created a massive frenzy for densification so TransLink can claim ever higher ridership numbers on their pet metro lines, but the fact is, the more density added just creates more auto use in the region as those other 88% of the population use cars.

There are more planning charlatans than ever in the Vancouver region perverting our transportation, like the alchemist of old trying to turn lead into gold; promoting densification of properties along metro routes, creating instant windfall profits for owners.

Richard, if you really want to get people out of their cars and on to transit, then abandon the SkyTrain/density style planning and jump on the light rail, protect the neighborhoods style of planning. Remember if LRT costs 1/3 to 1/4 of that of metro, which means light rail needs 1/3 to 1/4 of the density to service it, which again means that light rail can be extended further out into the 'burbs, creating a larger transit network, which may prove to be an attractive alternative to the motorists.

This is why cities opt for light rail over metro (why SkyTrain has failed to find a market in over 30 years); light rail serves the needs of transit customers, while metro serves the needs of politicians.

The transit/density debate is a scam.

10 7Rating: +3

glen p robbins

Jan 10, 2010 at 10:04am

I like what Greg Booth had to say. I expect that all of this highfalutin language and bespoke 'planning' messages will continue to push the public further away from major decisions affecting land use and transportation. Anytime, one specific player (Translink) is able to essentially control planning and development--without (particularly) the necessary counter-weight of 100% approval--imbalances will immediately occur--the public interest will not be achieve any discernable standard----(as witnessed by poor turnouts at public meetings and the people's confidence in our 'democratic system' of governance (overall) will continue to zoom toward the shitter. When systems of communicating planning and decision making becomes so complex, wordy, they ultimately detatch the public and the public interest--the apparent intention of these bureaucratic 'developments'. What I know is--Coquitlam spent $300,000 to develop an LID (Low Impact Development) strategy for Burke Mountain (watershed) and on the last day of council meetings in the summer--Richard Stewart and his developer friends kicked it out as too expensive/while the public was getting set to holiday. I can simplify this by saying--anything that looks like Gordon Campbell--his cohorts--chums--nominees or assigns is involved will come to no good/as self serving/corrupt and for the benefit of a few. No language or plan will alter this destiny. I commend all those who use their given names in these discussions

4 5Rating: -1


Jan 11, 2010 at 9:28am

4. TransLink's Land Use Influence and Role as Developer Creates a Systemic Conflict of Interest

This all leads to TransLink's mandate through Provincial legislation to use real estate development for funding based on the Hong Kong model. As an unelected board, TransLink is in the role of both a developer and having land use regulatory influence, which creates a systemic conflict of interest. Further, the funds raised by TransLink's development are not necessarily required go to specific transit projects. Funds raised by development in the City of Vancouver could go towards roads and bridges such as the Gateway Project in the suburbs.

Municipalities collect very considerable DCCs from any property developments they approve. Is that a conflict of interest.

The last sentence is not only extraordinarily revealing it's also entirely predictable. Poor Vancouver.

Rod Smelser

5 5Rating: 0

E. Murphy

Jan 12, 2010 at 5:31pm

TransLink's conflict of interest as an unelected board using development for funding while in a land use regulatory role is much different than municipal use of DCC to fund amenities.

Municipal development charges such as DCC, DCL or CAC from upzoning land-lift are a few of the limited ways municipalities can raise funds to pay for civic amenities such as parks, community centres and libraries. Unlike senior governments, municipalities only receive less than 10% of the taxes collected even though the financial responsibilities of municipalities are continuing to expand.

The province has many ways to raise funds, but now is increasingly looking at land-lift from development to pay for amenities of provincial responsibilities at the expense of municipalities. This is a form of downloading. For example, recently the province raised $600 m from development land-lift in NE False Cr. for a retractable roof for BC Place at the expense of decreased park space for the community. Now TransLink is using land-lift to pay for transit which is a provincial responsibility .

The province has the option of raising revenue for transit through other options such as a polluter-pay system. For instance, the carbon tax could be made so it is not revenue neutral. It has been reported to raise an estimated $546 m this year and $2.27 b over the next three years. That would be enough to cover TransLink's expansion plans without using real estate development, property taxes or increased fares.

The comment that ..." the funds raised by TransLink's development are not necessarily required go to specific transit projects. Funds raised by development in the City of Vancouver could go towards roads and bridges such as the Gateway Project in the suburbs"... is intended to demonstrate that even if a less expensive transit system such as light rail rather than underground rapid transit is used, TransLink has no incentive to reduce the amount of development it uses for funding. The higher profit margins in Vancouver could continue to subsidize unsustainable auto-dependent projects in other jurisdictions.

7 5Rating: +2


Jan 14, 2010 at 9:26am

For example, recently the province raised $600 m from development land-lift in NE False Cr. for a retractable roof for BC Place at the expense of decreased park space for the community.

Incredible! I have to say this is news to me. Does anyone have a source on this matter?

The higher profit margins in Vancouver could continue to subsidize unsustainable auto-dependent projects in other jurisdictions.

Why are profit margins higher in Vancouver? I thought the urbanist creed stated that greedy, redneck suburban land developers got huge profits from building tacky homes on cheap land, while responsible, sophisticated urban property developers earned little more than bank interest as they constructed sleek, progressive Vancouverist towers and generously contributed to everything from parkettes to day cares. Do I have that wrong?

The bit about Gateway being a tax on poor Vancouver is one of the most incredible and outrageous claims imaginable. It's utterly without foundation.

Port Mann is to be a user pay proposition end to end, capital and maintenance included, as is GEB. To suggest to Vancouver readers that Translink is somehow funneling property enhancement charges from downtown condo developments into either of these projects is absolutely false.
Rod Smelser

5 7Rating: -2