Metro Vancouver is proposing to replace the existing Livable Region Strategic Plan with the Regional Growth Strategy.
The RGS bylaw draft is going to the Metro Vancouver regional planning committee on November 5 with the recommendation that the Metro board vote for first and second reading of the RGS bylaws on November 12.
The Metro Vancouver report states that the RGS “is balanced in its approach to addressing regional planning objectives while respecting local government interests”. There is no doubt that the RGS addresses regional, provincial, and TransLink objectives. However, local government and community interests are undermined.
RGS transfers municipal land use authority to senior governments including TransLink
There is a significant transfer of authority for land-use planning to senior governments through the RGS.
The new draft includes regional land-use designations and overlays such as General Urban, Urban Centres, and Frequent Transit Development Areas that must be depicted on detailed parcel-based maps maintained by Metro Vancouver.
Municipal official community plans must match regional context statements that require Metro Vancouver approval, and those plans must be consistent with provincial and TransLink plans and objectives. TransLink’s Transport 2040 Plan is mutually reinforced in the RGS, with TransLink and transit-oriented land-use planning mentioned throughout.
The unelected TransLink board is defined as an “affected local government” that has a veto over RGS adoption and all major amendments. Metro Vancouver and the municipalities have no such reciprocal rights to approval of TransLink’s plans.
Provincial legislation, both current and proposed, gives the region, province, and TransLink broad overriding powers that would be implemented through the RGS in order to get around municipal jurisdiction.
Interpretation of the RGS is under provincial control
In the current draft RGS, the glossary has been deleted and replaced with a section called “Interpretation” that says: “6.14.2 All terms used in the Regional Growth Strategy that are defined in the Local Government Act have the meanings given to such terms in the Local Government Act.” These definitions carry considerable provincial powers and requirements that affect the interpretation of the RGS.
The applicable definitions should have been transparently shown as an appendix to the RGS during the consultation process, so that readers could view them in the context of the rest of the document. This has not happened so far.
RGS creates another level of bureaucracy
Land-use planning becomes much more complicated under the RGS. There is a whole new level of expensive, time-consuming bureaucracy created to manage this process. The region is going to need to raise regional tax levies to pay for it all.
Rushed process leading to errors
The 78-page RGS is a complex bylaw document. It is being rushed through to first and second reading without due process and this rush is leading to errors.
For example, I brought to staff’s attention that the last draft RGS showed section 6.6.2 with a typo that gave TransLink a veto over all amendments. This error has now been corrected to read “as set out in section 6.3.1” which limits TransLink’s approval requirements only to Type 1 major amendments to the RGS, rather than require TransLink’s approval of all Type 2 minor amendments for all land use designations including municipal regional context statements.
It does not inspire confidence that this important document has been reviewed by Metro staff and every municipal planning department in the region, and yet something as critical as this typo had been missed at such a late date in the process. The RGS adoption is being rushed through and mistakes are being made. Leaving off that one digit gave TransLink a veto over all Type 2 RGS amendments.
If the RGS had been approved with this mistake in it, what is the chance that TransLink or the province would want to give up that additional authority? One wonders what else has been missed in this RGS document.
Of most concern is that the rushed time frame is not allowing municipal staff and councils to fully make an informed decision or allowing stakeholders to have adequate input.
RGS adoption process restrictive
Once the RGS has received first and second reading by the Metro board, the RGS goes into adoption procedures as defined under Local Government Act Part 25 Division 2 — Preparation and Adoption Procedures.
The procedures are very limiting and would not easily allow for significant changes to the RGS during adoption once entered into the process. If there are disputes, the resolution process could be significantly controlled by the province.
It is crucial that the RGS is in a form that is fully revised prior to entering into first and second reading. This current draft has a long way to go before it is ready. The whole concept needs to be reconsidered.
This draft and all of the previous drafts have not adequately addressed the concerns that I had raised in January. This is the same proposal as before, but reconstructed in ways that increase those concerns, not reduce them.
Elizabeth Murphy has a background in development and urban land economics.