'No growth' plan will thwart business: coalition
A coalition of business groups is pressing Metro Vancouver to redraw its regional growth strategy, saying it could stifle job creation and stunt development.
The new master plan governing how the region grows, okayed by all cities except Coquitlam, is going to a non-binding dispute resolution process to iron out the impasse with that council.
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Business Council of B.C. and Urban Development Institute – calling themselves the Business Coalition for a Sustainable Region – say the plan contains critical flaws and vests too much power with the regional board.
"We look at it as a no growth plan," said Maureen Enser, executive director of the Urban Development Institute. "It takes things the way they are and freezes them for the next 30 years."
It will be too difficult, time-consuming and bureaucratic to amend the plan in the future to meet needs that can't be anticipated today, the coalition argues.
"We're adding more layers or gatekeepers," Enser said.
She said businesses or developers wanting a development passed that might require approval at the Metro board level may have to lobby nearly every council in the region in advance to ensure the project isn't defeated.
"It's a great vehicle for anybody who wants to oppose a project," Enser said.
She denied the coalition is against the plan's urban containment boundary or its key goal of concentrating growth in urban areas to avoid more sprawl.
But she said the plan lacks flexibility, particularly in terms of where industry and business can locate.
Enser said 70 per cent of land in the region is already protected from development by the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Green Zone, which becomes conservation and recreation areas under the new strategy.
"We're dealing with basically 30 per cent of the land that remains, much of which has been already developed," she said.
"We've got a very limited land supply. We've got to use it very carefully."
The coalition has offered few specifics on how they'd change the document but wants its concerns addressed when talks begin between Metro and Coquitlam reps.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, chair of the regional planning committee, said the business groups had years and multiple rounds of public consultations to table their concerns.
"It's a bit late to start jumping up and complaining about the plan," he said.
Corrigan said he doesn't understand why the business groups wouldn't welcome the land-use certainty the growth strategy will deliver – unless they have the "nefarious" aim of swaying a "stupid council" without facing the safeguards of the regional board.
"We're talking about a bunch of business people who see an opportunity to make a quick buck by getting a council to turn agricultural land to industrial or industrial land to residential," he said.
"And that potential loss of opportunity for those windfall profits is making some of them angry."
The 60-day non-binding process to resolve Coquitlam's objections must start by May 16.
Metro politicians had wanted arbitration but were overruled by the provincial government.
Corrigan and others fear the ratification of the growth plan could drag past the November civic elections, leaving the accord at risk of unravelling after new councils take power.
Coquitlam councillors say the plan is too inconsistent from city to city because because multiple exemptions were made to win each council's approval.
While many amendments have been made to address local objections, the growth strategy requires councils to pass regional context statements that show how they will comply with it.
They can then be held to those binding commitments through a dispute resolution system.
Metro says that will make the new plan more enforceable than the outdated Livable Region Strategic Plan, which some cities repeatedly defied.
The vast majority of development proposals would still be decided by the local council alone. A project would only go to a vote of the regional board if the proposed land use is contrary to the designations in the regional growth strategy, such as a dense development in rural or agricultural areas outside the urban containment boundary.
The region forecasts more than a million new residents will arrive over the next 30 years and the strategy aims to ensure that happens without sacrificing farmland and green space, while increasing density along transit corridors.
For more info on Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy see: http://www.metrovancouver.org/planning/development/strategy/Pages/default.aspx