Is Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy a readable roadmap to guide regional decision making, a tool that significantly blunts Langley’s control over areas that include development and the environment, or too much Big Brother?
All were raised at Township’s March 7 meeting.
Member municipalities have until March 22, to vote on the RGS which addresses several challenges, not least of which is guiding growth as the region adds 1.2 million residents (and a projected 600,000 jobs) over the next 30 years. Some municipalities are struggling with the issue.
A few member municipalities, including Port Moody, have rejected the RGS. Among those which have voted to support it are Langley City, Surrey and Vancouver.
Metro Vancouver has set a ratification vote for April 29. If the strategy is adopted, cities will have two years to pass regional context statements that show how their official community plans will align with the RGS.
The RGS encourages building complete, healthy communities, supports the region’s economy by protecting the industrial land base, identifying places for jobs and connecting transportation networks. It also aims to protect agriculture as well as conservation and recreation lands, and addresses climate change.
Opponents fears that the current Green Zone, which will be replaced in the RGS by conservation and recreation land-use designations, will only accelerate urbanization and sacrifice farmland for the sake of industrial businesses, thus compromising the Agricultural Land Reserve.
The RGS dominated Township council’s Monday afternoon meeting, beginning with Peter Kenward of Clark Wilson, lawyer for the Urban Development Institute. Noting that the UDI is “very supportive of planning as a region,” Kenward said the organization opposes it “because at the end of the day the Regional Growth Strategy would add a good deal of bureaucracy without sufficiently advancing its goals.”
If the objective was to “transfer effective control” of a variety of matters to Metro Vancouver or to a relatively small number of municipalities within Metro Vancouver “it is a very effective document.”
Kenward warned that one of the major impacts of the document is that it “locks in” to varying degrees a specific plan in a changing world.
“As the plan becomes increasingly out of date, the practical scope of the restraints on Langley’s powers to impact land use decision in Langley, (and hence Metro Vancouver’s) will increase,” he said.
“The RGS is much more than a plan. It is a plan that establishes a dividing line between Langley’s jurisdiction and Metro’s jurisdiction,” he said.
Councillor Charlie Fox agreed. The RGS “has the potential to dichotomize the region,” he said.
While there was reluctance to endorse the RGS, a majority of council would not agree to Councillor Bob Long’s motion to delay the vote for one week, giving staff time to clarify points of uncertainty. These included establishing voting standards, and what is referred to as a “sunset clause” which typically leaves the door open for reconsideration of a document.
A sunset clause already exists in the Local Government Act, and therefore is protected in the Regional Growth Strategy, said Chris DeMarco, a senior Metro Vancouver planner.
The Act offers the opportunity for review.
“The Act states that when a regional district has adopted a regional growth strategy, at least once every five years it must consider whether the strategy should be reviewed for possible amendments,” she said following the meeting.
DeMarco said that the RGS contains two main amendment processes to accommodate requests for changes to the Strategy:
1: Any application to remove land from conservation, recreation, rural and agriculture lands would require a two-thirds majority vote at the Metro Vancouver board and a public hearing;
2: Changing industrial land to residential, for example, would require a lower threshold of a simple majority of 50 per cent, and no public hearing.
DeMarco told council that municipalities which want an extension to the March 22 deadline must explain to the Minister of Community, Sport and Culture what they hope to accomplish if they are given more time.
The vote passed with only Councillor Kim Richter voting against the RGS.
“It’s little bit too Big Brother,” she said.