On the evening of last Monday (March 7), the majority of West Vancouver council accepted the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy in spite of community opposition. Only councillors Bill Soprovich and Michael Lewis voted to reject the RGS.
West Vancouver council spoke about protection of the Upper Lands forests. In the West Vancouver Official Community Plan, it defines the Upper Lands as being the forested lands above the Upper Levels Highway, of which the land above the 1,200 foot elevation line is to be preserved as Limited Use and Recreation.
However, the majority of council voted to accept the Regional Growth Strategy even though it proposes urban development of the Upper Lands that is far above the limits of development proposed in the West Vancouver Official Community Plan.
The RGS has an Urban Containment Boundary that outlines the area for urban development called General Urban, which is defined in the RGS as residential neighbourhoods.
The RGS Urban Containment Boundary approaches the ridge of the West Vancouver mountains up to 2,600 feet of elevation. It covers most of the south face with the General Urban regional designation.
In addition, the RGS has a Special Study Area over the forested Upper Lands, which spread north over the ridge and the backside of the mountains as far as the Capilano Watershed and Cypress Park. This area is regionally designated as Conservation/Recreation, but as a Special Study Area under the RGS it is identified as an area under consideration for an alteration of the designation. The area could be re-designated for urban development with only a 50 percent plus one vote of the Metro board quorum and no public hearing because it is within a Special Study Area.
Residents spoke passionately against acceptance of the RGS.
Liz Byrd, former West Vancouver councillor and current director and cofounder of the Western Residents Association (of West Vancouver), made it clear the community would not accept any development at all above the 1,200 foot elevation line.
According to Paul Hundal, a lawyer who resides in West Vancouver, “Council gave lip service to protecting the Upper Lands but by their actions they were far more interested in protecting their right to develop the Upper Lands.”
Council approved the staff recommendations to request that Metro Vancouver make changes to the RGS after its adoption. Staff claimed that the proposed changes would protect the forests of the Upper Lands. However, staff’s proposed changes would only convert a small area from the classification of General Urban to Conservation/Recreation in the area of the Old Growth Conservancy. The Urban Containment Boundary would retain the General Urban designation for most of the forests up to the ridge of the mountain.
In addition, staff proposed an expansion of the Special Study Area to cover all the lands above the 1,200 foot line, but this leaves the designation of General Urban unchanged.
Bruce McArthur, local resident and director of the Western Residents Association, urged council to reject the RGS. He pointed out that after the RGS enters into force, the changes staff proposed could potentially be rejected. Section 6.12.4 in the RGS states that Special Study Areas are not to be expanded. Section 6.10.1 implies that the Special Study Areas are only to be established prior to RGS adoption.
Further, McArthur noted that even if the proposed changes to the RGS were approved by Metro Vancouver, the RGS would not protect the lands above the 1200 foot line from urban development. The Special Study Areas do not change the underlying General Urban designation, which would apply even though urban development is not consistent with the Official Community Plan.
Hundal confirmed McArthur’s analysis. Hundal said that to protect the forests above the 1,200 foot line, council must first reject the relevant sections of the RGS. He said they should then request changes to lower the Urban Containment Boundary to designate all the lands above the 1,200 foot elevation as Conservation/Recreation. If the Upper Lands are designated General Urban in the adopted RGS, it weakens the municipality’s ability to protect the Upper Lands.
Hundal pointed out that the lands below the 1,200 foot line in the Nelson Creek/Eagle Creek watershed area, including Whyte Lake, are mostly owned by the municipality. He said it was the community’s desire that these areas also be designated as Recreation/Conservation. However under the RGS, these areas have been designated as General Urban.
Hundal left the meeting frustrated and disappointed with the majority of the West Vancouver council who voted to accept the Regional Growth Strategy, ignoring warnings that the plan would fail to protect and in fact would threaten the North Shore forests and would also promote urban development sprawl. The proposed changes requested by council, even if approved after adoption of the RGS, would fail to protect the Upper Land forests from urban development.
The staff recommendation included the following request for the next steps of the RGS: Adoption by the Metro Vancouver board April 29, amendments go to regional planning committee May 20, board prepares bylaw for amendments on May 27, and board considers and ratifies the additional amendments by July 29.
Elizabeth Murphy has a background in development and project management.
3-D 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, B.Sc., M.L.A.)
Map of West Vancouver region showing 1,200 foot/365 metre contour line (white), the proposed Urban Containment Boundary (orange), and Special Study Area (red). (Source: David Flanders, B.Sc., M.L.A.)
Map under West Vancouver’s Official Community Plan (from website).