Regional growth plan to have more bark than bite

New rules to control Metro Vancouver’s long-term growth are likely to be short on teeth and long on good intentions.

The regional district is drawing up a new regional growth strategy that will replace the 11-year-old Livable Region Strategic Plan, the current master plan for limiting sprawl, preserving green space and fostering a sustainable region.

Much advice received so far has called for tighter restrictions to keep cities from allowing development of Green Zone lands or industrial properties –

But Metro land use and transportation committee chair Derek Corrigan says most cities want to retain as much autonomy as possible.

The Burnaby mayor says it’s unlikely the final document will go against those wishes.

“There’s a reluctance to do anything that would interfere with local autonomy,” he said.

“Municipalities are very hesitant about giving Metro Vancouver more power to deal with land use.”

Corrigan argues the moral suasion the new plan will bring may well be much more important than its legal enforceability.

Corrigan said the key test of redrawing the plan has been to gauge whether the region’s member cities continue to share many of the same values and a commitment to work hard to ensure sustainability.

New concerns have also emerged.

“Issues like climate change, global warming and peak oil –

There are also growing questions about whether even the Agricultural Land Reserve and the existing Green Zone are adequate to protect farm land and help ensure the region’s food security.

The new regional growth strategy likely will not be passed before November’s municipal elections, Corrigan added.

A draft plan is expected later this spring, with consultations expected through the summer.

After that Corrigan predicts it will become an election issue in some communities.

The final plan will likely be stronger, he added, if it is passed with a mandate from newly elected city councils, rather than by outgoing politicians in the final days of their term.

The plan is expected to include some kind of Industrial Land Reserve to stem the steady conversion of port, sawmill and similar lands to more lucrative residential and commercial development.

Corrigan said the erosion of industrial land is having long-term economic consequences.

“If we want complete communities, there has to be a balance,” he said. “Having land that is there for jobs is equally important as having land for residential.”

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said while protection of industrial land is a “laudable initiative” it unfairly rewards cities like Vancouver that converted most former industrial lands years ago and punishes those with large swathes still remaining.

“The region is saying we need industrial land for truck parks, containers and all these other things,” she said. “Therefore we’re going to freeze it and Surrey’s got to take it because we have land.”

Watts said the debate over food security also threatens to tighten restrictions in cities with much farmland remaining.

“One community cannot get the highest and best taxes and return on the dollar and expect the region to support all the other pieces of the puzzle,” she said.

One possible scenario is a system of incentives to address such inequities, but it’s not yet clear what such a proposal might look like.

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