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: email@example.com Fax: 604-436-6970
Mail: Metro Vancouver, Regional Development, 4330 Kingsway, Burnaby, B.C. V5H 4G8
Reference: RGS Details and Maps: http://www.metrovancouver.org/planning/development/strategy/Pages/detail...
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.