Feedback to Metro by Feb 5, 2010

Metro Vancouver is completing the public input stage of its Regional Growth Strategy process, which is called Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future.” In Richmond, people are sick of phony consultation that is just window dressing, but my impression is that Metro Vancouver’s consultation is genuine.

A key aspect of the public consultation is the Metro Vancouver 2040 Feedback Form. The stated deadline for public feedback is very soon, Friday, March 5, 2010.

I will show here how I filled it out. That is partly introduce you to the form and partly to share some ideas. I hope you will at least provide Metro with good feedback related to Richmond’s Garden City Lands.

Metro Vancouver 2040 Feedback Form

A. In Part A, eight objectives are stated. Participants are asked to rate how well the Regional Growth Strategy will achieve each objective on a 5-point scale. A rating of 1 means “not at all,” and a 5 means “Very Well.”

Objective 1. Contain urban development within the Urban Containment Boundary. 4

Comments: It will depend on improved buy-in from the municipalities.

Objective 2. Direct growth to Urban Centres and Frequent Transit Development Corridors.  4

Comments: The difficulty is that municipalities are so undisciplined. For instance, Richmond seems about to approve of turning an industrial area on the North Arm into a mixed-use area that is mainly residential.

Objective 3. Protect land for industrial activities. 3

Comments: Municipalities are quick to eliminate industrial land, which is needed but not very lucrative for developers. Besides directly affecting the supply of industrial land, that indirectly affects the supply of agricultural land, which some municipalities seem to view as at least an industrial land bank (if not a residential land bank). Metro Vancouver’s role in dealing with this ongoing problem is lacking in clout.

Objective 4. Protect agricultural land and promote agricultural viability. 3

Comments: Metro Vancouver needs to be more proactive in designating land as “Agricultural.” I’d like Metro todesignate all Agricultural Land Reserve land as Agricultural. For a start, I ask Metro to designate Richmond’s Garden City Lands and the adjoining Department of Defence Lands as “Agricultural” in the Regional Growth maps. The City of Richmond has not been proactive, but most likely it will go along with it (even though the designation could be contested at the ratification stage). Whatever the result, Metro Vancouver will have done the right thing by NOT defying the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC). If Metro and the Commission work together, instead of being pointlessly at odds, then agricultural land can be more effectively protected and promoted. Together, they even have a decent chance of getting the municipalities on board. If they all ever start standing shoulder to shoulder, the individual city plus Metro plus the ALC will even stand a fighting chance when the need arises to stare down the federal government, as in the Gilmore Farm situation in Richmond.

 Objective 5. Protect the environment and environmentally-important lands. 3

Comments: Judging from the maps, there is inconsistent buy-in from the municipalities. For instance, West Vancouver and Richmond don’t show most of their Conservation and Recreation areas. Richmond shows the Terra Nova Natural Area but not the Terra Nova Rural Park, which has a significant agricultural aspect but would come under the “Conservation and Recreation” category. Because it is both, it could understandably be temporarily “Under Study,” but showing it as “Urban” is wrong.

Objective 6. Address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change impacts. 3

Comments: When the Garden City Lands and Department of National Defense (DND) Lands in Richmond are shown as “Urban,” that says it all. As the largest remnant of the Lulu Island Bog, they are a carbon sink.

Objective 7. Support the provision of diverse and affordable housing. 4

Comments: I’m giving this a high rating, 4, on the basis of hope. With the City of Vancouver as a notable exception, the Metro municipalities mostly just pay lip service to affordable housing. We really need Metro to take the lead on this. One example is that Metro could facilitate the availability of far more buildings throughout Metro with compact units for people at risk of homelessness. Vancouver has buildings with 200-square-foot units that may seem tiny to most of us but that are vastly better than the decrepit little rooms, at best, that are the alternative for the people who take up residence in them. If we give high priority to the neediest among us, then the first paragraph of “Vision” at the beginning of the strategy is an inspiring reality instead of insipid platitudes.

Objective 8. Encourage land use patterns that support sustainable transportation throughout the region. 5

Comments: Metro seems to be cooperating well with Translink.

B. Amendment Process

There may be requests to amend the Regional Growth Strategy Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our future. Using the amendment process located on our website as a reference, does the proposed amendment process strike the right balance between ensuring regional objectives are met while protecting municipal autonomy?

Yes. However, I’d prefer to see Metro having a little more clout. All the ratings I’ve given for the eight objectives would go up if I could be confident of a stronger Metro.

C. Other comments or concerns?

In his presentation, Mr. Johnny Carline said that by far the majority of people support protection and viability of agricultural land, and he stressed not allowing agricultural land to be an escape valve for housing and industry. In answer to a query about designating the Garden City Lands (Richmond’s recently threatened ALR land) as “Agricultural,” Mr. Carline said, “If the Land Commission decision is firm, that would appear to be the designation that should apply.” In 2009, the Agricultural Land Commission in fact firmly rejected the application to exclude that land from the ALR despite the massive (and massively funded) application, and that reinforced its 2006 rejection of a previous attempt. No ALR decisions could more firmly show that a piece of ALR land belongs in the ALR.

However, it is awkward for the City of Richmond to ask for the Garden City Lands to be designated as “Agricultural” in the Regional Growth Strategy maps. That is because of extreme caution about an agreement (the Garden City Property Memorandum of Understanding, known as “the MOU”) that is largely inoperative because of the 2009 ALC decision but not yet terminated. Despite that over-the-top caution, I know from legal assistance to the Garden City Lands Coalition Society that the City would not be acting in bad faith under the MOU to designate Agricultural Land Reserve lands as “Agricultural.” The lawyer I asked has studied the MOU in depth, and he simply said it is a legal reality that the lands are agricultural. Furthermore, the Garden City Lands are zoned Agricultural, AG1, by the City of Richmond.

In any case, the MOU does not affect Metro Vancouver ability to designate the Garden City Lands as “Agricultural” in the next version of the plan.

Personally, I see this as being part of a common-sense approach in which Metro Vancouver designates all ALR parcels of a reasonable size (e.g., >10 ha or perhaps >5 ha) as Agricultural. Whether Metro Vancouver does that everywhere or not, please at least do it where the public input has called for it. In Richmond, that would mean designating the DND Lands as “Agricultural” as well. (The DND Lands are located between the Richmond Nature Park and the Garden City Lands and have a slightly larger area than the 55.2 ha Garden City Lands.)

At minimum, then, please designate the Garden City Lands and DND Lands as “Agricultural.” On the maps, that is the area bounded by Garden City Road, Alderbridge Road, Shell Road, and Westminster Highway.

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