Metro Vancouver is proposing to replace the existing Livable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP) with the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). On January 14, the Metro Vancouver board voted to refer the RGS to the 22 municipalities of the regional district for acceptance.
The municipalities have until March 18 to vote either yes or no for acceptance of the RGS. If they vote no, they must state which parts of the RGS they oppose and provide their reasons. Any aspect not specifically opposed will be deemed to be accepted. The RGS goes into a dispute resolution phase for aspects of the plan not accepted.
This article begins with a summary to outline the issues. It continues with a detailed explanation for those who are interested in policy analysis.
A) Options for municipalities to consider:
There are many reasons for municipalities to vote no on the RGS. Most of the concerns previously raised in the public hearing have not yet been resolved.
Under Part 25 of the Local Government Act, sections 857 and 858, it is possible to request an extension to the acceptance process if more time is required. Some of the reasons a municipality would choose not to accept the RGS could be:
”¢ The role of TransLink as an Affected Local Government, TransLink’s veto over acceptance and major amendments of the RGS, and the legislation that directs it.
”¢ The Hong Kong model of using development to fund transit. Use carbon taxes and vehicle levies instead.
”¢ The transfer of land use authority over urban areas to senior governments (except for the protection of agricultural, conservation/recreation, rural, parks, and industrial land).
”¢ Financial downloading onto municipalities and taxation without representation.
”¢ The removal of the Green Zone that was in the LRSP.
”¢ The reduced protection of agricultural and conservation/recreation lands. Special Study Areas and land adjacent to the Urban Containment Boundary only require 50 percent plus one without any public hearing for re-designation.
”¢ Because the consultation process was flawed and the plan is not to the best public interest.
B) The following are the concerns about the Regional Growth Strategy:
1. Provincial legislation for TransLink and the RGS
a. The B.C. Liberals under Gordon Campbell brought in legislation without public consultation to transform TransLink (its board is no longer made up of elected officials; it has an appointed board) and to re-defined the regional plan of the Livable Region Strategic Plan into the Regional Growth Strategy.
b. The purpose and effect of the legislation and the RGS enable TransLink’s implementation of the Hong Kong model, which is to use real estate development to fund transit rather than the preferred carbon/gas taxes.
c. TransLink is defined in legislation as an “Affected Local Government”, which means it has a veto power over acceptance of the RGS and any major amendments, just like a municipality, even though the TransLink board is not elected.
2. Transfer of municipal land use authority
a. The RGS increases the transfer of municipal land use authority to senior governments through regionally controlled parcel-based maps.
b. The RGS has Frequent Transit Development Areas that could be 400-800 metres around bus stops with power to create high density development and significant TransLink influence in land use policy in those areas.
3. Financial downloading onto municipalities and taxation without representation
a. Providing transit is a provincial responsibility; however, the province is trying to use the municipal tax base to fund transit which is a form of down-loading.
b. The RGS opens the possibility for the region and TransLink to make use of property taxes, and to create regional Development Cost Levies (DCLs), and regional Community Amenity Contributions (CACs).
c. TransLink is an unelected agency so it is taxation without representation for TransLink to have access to municipal funding mechanisms.
d. The RGS requires a much larger role for Metro Vancouver and this will lead to a bigger bureaucracy that will have to be supported, likely through additional municipal funding sources such as property taxes.
4. The RGS promotes and enables urban sprawl
a. The RGS eliminates the Green Zone from the Livable Region Strategic Plan.
b. The Green Zone is replaced with an Urban Containment Boundary (UCB) and multiple regional designations that are defined in a regional bylaw.
c. The protection of lands previously in the Green Zones is weaker.
d. Some lands in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) are within General Urban regional designations. The Agricultural Land Commission has warned Metro in two letters that this is illegal.
e. Special Study Areas in Agricultural and Conservation/Recreation areas are allowed to be converted to development with only a 50 percent plus one vote of the Metro board and no public hearing.
f. Land adjacent to the Urban Containment Boundary can be converted to industrial with only a 50 percent plus one vote and no public hearing.
g. Many parks are within the Urban Containment Boundary so it would not require an amendment to the UCB if land was removed from those parks for other uses.
5. Flawed process
a. The provincial legislation that directs the RGS and TransLink’s plans were brought in without public consultation.
b. The substantial changes to the RGS, including Special Study Areas, were created over the summer of 2010 when the directors of planning in every municipality met weekly for 15 weeks. The resulting plan was presented in September 2010 without any public meetings. Several additional drafts were further amended without public consultation, and only then in November 2010 did the RGS go to public hearing in only four of 22 municipalities.
c. No public hearing meetings were held in Vancouver even though requested by the public.
d. Very little understanding of the implications of the RGS by elected officials or the public.
e. The RGS has not had enough review of the financial implications to municipalities.
f. The rushed adoption process is leading to errors.
g. Metro staff have given incorrect and misleading information to Metro board members before the vote on the RGS on January 14. This was in regard to questions about the Urban Containment Boundary in West Vancouver and how it relates to the 1,200-foot elevation level. Misleading information was also provided on issues of agricultural land in the ALR, which the Agricultural Land Commission have determined are illegal.
h. Metro Vancouver staff blocked access of the public to contact their elected officials or to present to the Metro board in order to correct misinformation provided by Metro staff.
i. The RGS adoption process is restrictive. If there are disputes, the resolution process could be significantly directed by the province.
The Local Government Act Part 1, Part 25, and the Community Charter direct the Regional Growth Strategy and have significant implications. This legislation was brought in by the Gordon Campbell B.C. Liberals after they were elected in 2001, The general public are still unaware of this plan and what it means—even now as it goes to municipal acceptance.
Transfer of land use authority: The RGS transfers municipal land use authority to senior governments including TransLink. Municipal Official Community Plans are forced to conform to Regional Context Statements approved and managed by Metro Vancouver.
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. Those plans are required to 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.
Diagram from RGS:
“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.”
TransLink’s role: 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.
The RGS has Frequent Transit Development Areas that could be generally within 800 metres of a rapid transit station or within 400 metres of every transit route with high density development and significant TransLink influence in land use policy. This is based on TransLink’s Frequent Transit Network. Since Vancouver has a full transit grid, Frequent Transit Development Areas could cover the entire city.
Regional Context Statements must be accompanied by TransLink’s comments which must be considered by Metro to insure that Regional Context Statements are consistent with TransLink’s plans.
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 that could delay and override municipal planning and development processes. This extra level would make it much more difficult for the local area community to have an impact on land use planning.
The region would also need to raise regional tax levies to pay for this RGS process, potentially using property taxes, and regional fees such as Development Cost Levies (DCLs) or Community Amenity Contributions (CACs).
TransLink’s Hong Kong model of financing transit with development: Provincial legislation, both current and proposed, gives the region, the province and TransLink broad overriding powers that would be implemented through the RGS in order to circumvent municipal jurisdiction. The purpose and effect of the legislation and the RGS enable TransLink’s implementation of the Hong Kong model, which is to use real estate development to fund transit. Transit should be funded through a polluter-pay system such as vehicle levies, carbon and gas taxes rather than development.
Vancouver is again ranked five years running as the world’s most livable city as rated by the Economist magazine because “mid-sized cities in developed countries that have low population densities generally scored well”. However, Hong Kong was 31 in the livability ranking. The decision for Vancouver to move towards a Honk Kong model was made when the provincial legislation was brought in without any public consultation. This could lead away from the livability Vancouver has been known for.
RGS promotes and enables urban sprawl: Rather than limit urban sprawl as under the LRSP, the new RGS will expand urban designations that would weaken regulations protecting the green zones and the Agricultural Land Reserve, thereby encouraging sprawl. To demonstrate how the RGS enables urban sprawl, one only has to look at the comments from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
The Agricultural Land Commission points out that there are areas in Richmond and Aldergrove where the Urban Containment Boundary encroaches into the Agricultural Land Reserve. There are also seven Special Study Areas under consideration for development that are entirely within the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Commission raises concerns that Rural lands within the ALR are not clearly protected from development and that the language has been weakened from previous drafts.
This is further confirmed by a legal opinion from the West Coast Environmental Law Society.
Forests are designated for urban development. For example, forested lands in West Vancouver have been designated General Urban up the mountains above the current build-out level under the Official Community Plan of the 1,200-foot level. There also is a large Special Study Area under consideration for additional conversion to urban development.
3D landscape model of West Vancouver showing 1,200 foot contour line (white), the upper extent of the proposed urban containment boundary (orange), and the upper extent of the Special Study Areas (red). (Source: David Flanders, BSc, MLA)
The Metro Vancouver board vote requirements for exclusion of lands from the ALR, rural, and conservation/recreation lands (previously called the Green Zone) have been changed from a 100 percent vote under the original Livable Region Strategic Plan to only a 2/3 vote under the Regional Growth Strategy. This invites deal making to trade off further exclusions.
Lands shown as being in a Special Study Area only require a 50 percent plus one vote of the Metro board and no public hearing for exclusion. Lands adjacent to the Urban Containment Boundary can be converted to industrial with only a 50 percent plus one vote and no public hearing.
All of these policies put more development speculation pressures on agricultural and conservation areas that will increase land values making the lands uneconomic to keep protected. This will inevitably lead to further urban sprawl.
Interpretation of the RGS is under provincial control: In the proposed RGS Bylaw, the glossary has been deleted and replaced with a section call 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 import considerable provincial powers and requirements that affect the interpretation of the RGS.
The applicable definitions should have been included 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 adoption process restrictive: The RGS goes into adoption procedures as defined under LGA Part 25 Division 2 — Preparation and Adoption Procedures.
Now that the RGS has been referred by the Metro board to the municipalities for acceptance, the adoption procedures are severely limiting. These procedures would not easily allow for significant changes to the RGS during adoption once having entered into the process. If there are disputes, the resolution process could be significantly directed by the province.
The City of Vancouver is to consider the Regional Growth Strategy on Thursday (March 3) at 2 p.m.
Elizabeth Murphy has a background in development and urban land economics.