Metro growth plan racking up yes votes

One of the maps defining land-use designations in Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future. -
One of the maps defining land-use designations in Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future.
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Local councils are voting on Metro Vancouver's new regional growth strategy and it will take just one city opposing the document to shatter a fragile political consensus that has taken years to craft.
But opponents aren't optimistic about their chances of defeating the new master plan for development, which aims to guide growth as Metro adds another 1.2 million residents by 2040.
"It's like a freight train going down the track," said Randy Helten, a critic with the group "There's huge momentum behind this regional growth strategy. But hopefully enough people will realize there are some serious problems with it."
The train picked up more steam Monday night, when Surrey and Richmond councils both endorsed the accord, which replaces the outdated Livable Region Strategic Plan.
Vancouver may join them Thursday and more votes in Langley Township and Pitt Meadows are expected next week.
Critics like Helten object to the removal of the Green Zone – replaced with conservation and recreation land-use designations – and fear other changes will make it easier to urbanize or industrialize farmland.
They also claim the plan will allow home construction to sprawl far higher than now allowed on the North Shore mountains, despite assurances by West Vancouver's mayor that such fears are overblown.
"The biggest problem is that it's not going to achieve some of its important goals," Helten said. "It will actually promote urban sprawl. It will actually threaten agricultural land."
His group also warns that TransLink, which has veto power over the plan, will have free rein to collect taxes or development charges along frequent transit development corridors defined in the strategy, depriving local cities of revenue.
"It has vast implications – far beyond one or two election cycles," said Helten, who blames developer-friendly councils around the region for the lack of debate so far.
Most of the objections raised by Helten and his group have raised barely an eyebrow among the bulk of Metro Vancouver directors.
Richmond Coun. Harold Steves, co-founder of the Agricultural Land Reserve, was the only director to vote against the plan in January, primarily over its potential to wrest more farmland out of the ALR.
Other directors said they were satisfied that couldn't happen without the consent of the Agricultural Land Commission.
The document continues and builds on the vision of the Livable Region Strategic Plan – fighting sprawl, protecting green space and building more complete communities better served by transportation.
In some ways it will be easier to amend the new plan and redraw its urban containment boundary, which holds in urban development and protects farmland, green space and more rural lands.
But most veteran Metro politicians say it strikes a fair balance between civic autonomy and regional control.
Other concerns have been more localized.
Coquitlam council has debated the long-term designation of the Westwood Plateau golf course land and Maple Ridge is keen to ensure Metro keeps a promise to extend water and sewer to its Thornhill district in the future.
One city has so far voted against the growth strategy.
Port Moody council voted 5-1 last month to reject the document, saying their city can't agree to take more population growth without needed transportation improvements, notably the Evergreen Line and Murray-Clarke Connector.
But Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini, who cast the lone vote in favour, says his council has in effect lashed out at Metro Vancouver over decisions that are actually up to TransLink.
He is not convinced his city's stance will hold and predicts the issue will be revisited.
The Local Government Act requires municipalities that formally object to a regional growth strategy to give specific reasons.
And Trasolini said dissatisfaction with the pace of rapid transit development – under the control of TransLink – is not a legally valid reason.
"I don't blame council for shooting at anything and everything that comes our way on this," he said. "But at the same time, Metro Vancouver doesn't have those transportation powers."
He also noted the growth strategy uses Port Moody's targets for zero-to-minimal growth in that city, mirroring his council's freeze on development until the SkyTrain line is built, so that isn't an avenue for objection either.
Even if Port Moody formally objects with valid reasons, it's far from clear that would defeat the regional accord.
A dispute resolution process would be triggered, under the auspices of the provincial government.
Cities that don't formally oppose the strategy by a March 22 deadline are deemed to have accepted it.
To pass, the document must be accepted by all affected local governments.
They include the 20 member municipalities, the Tsawwassen First Nation (also a Metro member after signing their treaty), TransLink and the Squamish-Lillooet and Fraser Valley regional districts.
The plan has so far been accepted by Belcarra, Lions Bay, Delta, Langley City, Richmond, Surrey and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.
A final ratification vote by the Metro board is set for April 29.
If adopted, cities will have two years to pass regional context statements that show how their official community plans will align with the regional strategy.

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