Regional Growth Strategy plan triggers concerns over density in West Vancouver

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      A critic of a new regional growth strategy suggests it could result in greater urbanization in West Vancouver. Elizabeth Murphy, a critic of regional and municipal affairs, told the Georgia Straight by phone that regional planners have expanded the urban-containment boundary in the region’s wealthiest suburb.

      “I don’t support this draft because, for one, the Regional Growth Strategy implements urban sprawl rather than containing it,” Murphy said. “The Urban Containment Boundaries are expanded to allow conversion of green zones into urban development.”

      Murphy made these comments with Vancouver city council set to vote on Metro Vancouver’s third draft of the Regional Growth Strategy, which is the successor to the Livable Region Strategic Plan. The boundaries Metro staff are setting to prevent urban sprawl are “far broader than what they were previously”, Murphy added. In West Vancouver, she said, a large area considered a green zone under the Livable Region Strategic Plan now appears on Metro land-use mapping as “urban”. Another large area of West Vancouver is designated as a “special study area”, which allows a conversion to urban, Murphy claimed.

      She also expressed concern that the new document—a comprehensive plan for the region to 2040—could lead to increased density in many parts of Vancouver that have been designated “frequent-transit development” areas.

      Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer, on the other hand, believes the Regional Growth Strategy will be “a big step forward in transcending parochialism” and “thinking about how we interact with each other to all our benefits”. In a phone interview with the Straight, Reimer acknowledged that she wasn’t aware of the proposed boundary change in West Vancouver. She said she will probably vote at the Thursday (October 7) planning and environment committee meeting to accept Metro’s revised draft.

      “I’d be prepared to vote for it, notwithstanding that there are smaller pieces that need to be looked at in detail,” Reimer said. “And if it lays a foundation for the next regional plan to be developed, if this is the starting place, I think we are in a good, strong position here. This will be foundational, and the next piece five or 10 years down the road really needs to build on this work.”

      According to the revised growth strategy, the five main goals of the regional document are to create compact urban areas, create a sustainable economy, protect the environment, create complete communities with smaller carbon footprints, and create sustainable transportation choices.

      On September 30, Vancouver activist Ned Jacobs, son of the late urban-affairs writer and activist Jane Jacobs, penned a letter to Vancouver council members claiming that the frequent-transit development areas as set forth in the draft—called corridors in previous drafts—will still cover the entire city proper. Jacobs and his group Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver do not support this, claiming it will create citywide development pressure.

      “We do not see any community support for the transfer of authority or influence over land use planning within the City of Vancouver to senior levels of government, other than for protection of green zones and industrial land to prevent sprawl,” Jacobs wrote. “The proposed changes”¦do not address these previous concerns.”

      Reimer said she sent Jacobs a note explaining that the provincial government decision in 2007 to separate land-use planning from transportation planning provides enough clarity.

      “The [Metro] regional board only deals with land-use planning,” she said. “It does not deal with transportation decisions. So regional staff in the last draft wanted urban centres in these frequent-transit development corridors to be on a map with lines, and any modification of them would have to go to the regional board. The current draft says no lines on a map, only broad indications of where they are, and that they are entirely under the jurisdiction of local government.”

      City of North Vancouver mayor Darrell Mussatto, a supporter of the Regional Growth Strategy, refuted claims that the current draft gives too much power to the region.

      “No, I think it’s gone the other way: it’s almost giving too much control to the local municipalities,” Mussatto told the Straight by phone. “I think that we need a growth strategy that looks over the region as a whole. So what’s good for the whole region? If anything, I think we need more power [given] to Metro.”

      All municipalities will see this differently, according to Mussatto. Reimer noted that she and Mussatto are from higher-density communities, which have different priorities and constraints than lower-density municipalities.

      Mussatto said his city is “surrounded” by a municipality, the District of North Vancouver.

      “We cannot grow out, so we have to grow within our boundaries,” he said. “So we faced the music years ago, and I think that all other municipalities need to do that and to have boundaries so that they contain the growth and put it in the right place as the type of growth that it needs to be.”

      That works better under a regional model, according to Mussatto.

      “Now, [Burnaby mayor Derek] Corrigan has argued that we need more power at the municipal level,” he said. “I’m thinking that we’ve gone just about as far as we can before watering it down too much. You know, you need peer pressure. If we left it up to every municipality, it would be a free-for-all.”




      Oct 7, 2010 at 8:34am

      Read this column and ask yourself why the BC Govt doesn't impose full amalgamation on Vancouver the way Premier Mike Harris did on Toronto.

      Rod Smelser


      Oct 7, 2010 at 9:50am

      Mussatto: "If we left it up to every municipality, it would be a free-for-all" would be representative of democracy, something the unelected, unaccountable members of Metro Vancouver understand all too well.

      No one in Surrey elected Andrea Reimer to have say over anything outside of Vancouver's borders. Same goes for Mussatto.

      If you want to have a metro region, then we should talk about amalgamation. But, in the meantime, this board should stick to its original mandate of ensuring the region has common access to water and sewage services.

      E. Murphy

      Oct 7, 2010 at 11:44am

      I disagree with Andrea Reimer's statements. The new draft includes Regional Land Use Designations such as General Urban, Urban Centres and Frequent Transit Development Areas that must be depicted on detailed parcel based maps by Metro. Further, municipal Official Community Plans must match Regional Context Statements that require Metro Vancouver approval. Also, TransLink's Transport 2040 is mutually reinforced in the Regional Growth Strategy with TransLink defined as an "Affected local government" that must approve all amendments. TransLink and transit / land use planning are mentioned throughout the RGS. There is a significant transfer of authority for land use planning to senior governments through the Regional Growth Strategy. The RGS helps to implement TransLink's Hond Kong Model to fund transit with development. I tried to include a few of the specific clauses from the Regional Growth Strategy but it was too long to post.

      Ned Jacobs

      Oct 7, 2010 at 4:05pm

      As a result of provincial legislation, TransLink is now a land developer. I can see a situation arising where TransLink says: “If you want better bus service or a rapid transit station, approve our rezoning application and agree that Community Amenity Contributions and “land lift” –which Vancouver uses to fund amenities such as parks, childcare centres and libraries, as well as some non-market housing—be used instead to fund transit. This is the so-called “Hong Kong” model, which for various reasons is not appropriate for Metro Vancouver. I am alarmed that last week the Metro Vancouver mayors, including Mayor Robertson, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the province over transit funding that mentions “capturing some of the increase in land value” along transit corridors and “efficient methods of obtaining appropriate zoning” (appropriate for who—TransLink’s development partners?).

      A developer or land owner should never be allowed to put the city over a barrel. We saw that happen when the province told the City of Vancouver that if we wanted money to construct supportive housing the city would have to agree to the needless dislocation of the Little Mountain community and premature demolition of the homes. After a policy plan is completed and a rezoning approved, development will proceed in phases, and only as quickly as market conditions permit, which means it could be well over a decade before the non-market housing at Little Mountain is replaced (with no commitment to add more). TransLink is in a systemic conflict of interest, and I don’t think the RGS should support that by accepting its unelected board as having “government” status, and a role in land use planning.

      I question the need for Frequent Transit Development Areas because I don’t think it likely at this juncture that Vancouver, or any Metro municipality, will start planning major development that can’t be reasonably well-served by transit—that’s assuming TransLink is able to fund its commitments, which is doubtful under the current provincial government.

      Like Elizabeth Murphy, I am also very concerned that large parts of West Vancouver that include old growth wilderness have been taken out of protected green zones and reclassified as “urban” or “special study areas.” I fear the RGS will create more problems than solutions.

      Randy Chatterjee

      Oct 8, 2010 at 11:26am

      Many area planners and the politicians who listen to them are engaged in classic fallacies of composition. They argue that if compact communities are an absolute good then compact communities everywhere are better. They also assume that if some rezoning to increase housing supply is good, then more is better.

      The history and practice of urban planning for sustainable, walkable communities focusses empirically and rationally on distinct nodes of mixed-use, high density interspersed across a background of lower-density, less uniformly planned areas with a diversity of housing styles and tenures. These locally-planned, vibrant nodes are the recognizable neighbourhood centres that make all of the greatest cities great, and they are fed by quieter, neighbourly catchments around them.

      The "transit corridor community" approach to residential redevelopment that lies at the heart of the new RGS flies in the face of centuries of best practice, and denies both neighbourhood place-making and CPTED principles. With this new plan, Vancouver is simply being turned into strip malls of residential towers along high-traffic arteries, a dystopia of epic proportions.

      Worse still, urban design decision-making and land-lift are being alientated from democratic control and accountability by assigning both to appointed regional bodies and centralized bureaucracies. This bleeds municipalities of yet another source of revenue while simultaneously burdening them with more population to serve.

      There is yet another fallacy of composition inherent in the ditching of the celebrated Livable Region Strategic Plan. It is indeed responsible to create incentives for denser mixed-use development co-located and in parallel with transit improvements, but to do so everywhere at the same time encourages the very sprawl that we eschew. It also spikes speculative land values in the short term while ensuring an eventual and severe real estate collapse through oversupply.

      There is not an RS-1 homeowner who does not see land values rising with potential rezoning to RM or RT, and well they should. Did not a past mayor write openly of the dream of podium towers landing in every neighbourhood? Short term land prices must rise as a direct result, and they are. It is not actual demand that is priced into the planet's most unaffordable real estate, but widespread speculation ahead of expected rezoning.

      Of course property tax assessments will thereby also rise with this rezoning, explaining a greedy and/or bankrupt city's inner reasoning for doing do. But financial pressures on our fixed-income senior citizens, the disabled, and those of moderate income will force many from their homes, and starve the rest of money to spend in the local economy. The zoned capacity of the city for residential development will thus not only increase, but actual supply will also rise inexorably.

      Housing is one of the most elastic markets in our economy; when supply exceeds demand by even small amounts, prices fall far and fast. This occurred here in both the early 1980s and early 1990s, but with none of the skewed planning strategies of today. When the job market for construction is in a tailspin and the city continues to see overall net job losses (viz. VEDC's Q1/Q2 2010 report), the economic capacity to absorb and stop the fall of this discounted real estate will not exist.

      Welcome to Naomi Klein's Disaster Capitalism. Thousands to tens of thousands will lose their homes and life savings, while those with access to capital will lock up Vancouver real estate at bargain basement prices. Foreign ownership will rise and even more jobs and money will be drained from the local economy. Vancouver will be reduced to a hollow shell of a city with no business vitality and a shrinking local economy.

      If this is what you want, vote for the new RGS. Just be sure you know what dystopia you are championing, and plan your exit from BC politics.