False Metro logic re illegal General Urban designation of the Garden City Lands

This post builds on earlier ones about the illegal designation of the Garden City Lands in the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy, including “No excuse.

Christina DeMarco of the Metro Vancouver staff sent West Coast Environmental Law a lengthy Metro letter that appears after WCEL lawyer Andrew Gage’s legal opinion about the illegal designation of large ALR properties, including Richmond’s Garden City Lands, as “General Urban.” By definition, General Urban areas are “intended for residential neighbourhoods and urban centres.”

I am impressed with the dedicated staff who worked on the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy, but the case that Ms. DeMarco has to try to make can only be weak. Her Metro letter is very lengthy. However, the key question, which it cannot adequately answer, is simply why the Garden City Lands should or should not be designated as General Urban in the Regional Growth Strategy bylaw. That “General Urban” designation is what is evidently illegal, so that is what needs to be examined.

Here is the most relevant part of the Metro letter:

The Garden City Lands are designated “Public and Open Space Use” in Richmond’s Official Community Plan and have been designated as such since the 1990s. Richmond provided to us the attached letter from the Agricultural Land Commission in which the Commission consents to Richmond’s designation of the Garden City Lands as “Public and Open Space Use”.

The regional “General Urban” designation can contain a number of municipal designations, including “Public and Open Space Use” as it is reasonable to consider parks within a general urban context.

The Metro letter doesn’t identify which letter from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) was meant to be attached. A reader might mistakenly think that the mysteriously missing letter proves something, so I looked for it. The ALC letter that best fits the description, dated 07 July 2008, is available on the City of Richmond website. It does not even come close to justifying the much-later “General Urban” designation of the Garden City Lands.

The ALC letter of July 2008 is from Erik Karlsen, the ALC chair at that time. It responds to near-final amendments to Richmond’s City Centre Area Plan. Since the City had applied to exclude the Garden City Lands from the ALR for high-density development, the commission’s main objective at the time would simply be to ensure that the area plan still does not imply approval of the ALR-exclusion application. (Since the commission was in the process of considering the application, it would obviously have been highly inappropriate for the applicant to presume an approval outcome.)

The ALC letter of July 2008 reiterates that the Garden City Lands can be designated as Public and Open Space use in the area plan. Since the Richmond zoning of the Garden City Lands was (and is) Agricultural, that makes sense to everyone. In particular, the Garden City Lands Coalition Society leaders, who are alert to “Pave Garden City” tactics, did not see any problem with it and still have no idea why it would be a problem. On the contrary, Public and Open Space that is city-zoned Agricultural—in addition to being in the ALR—fits well with the people’s visions for the Lands.

The Metro Regional Growth Strategy states (on page 9) that “General Urban areas are intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres, and are supported by shopping, services, institutions, recreational facilities and parks.” Basically, the Garden City Lands are essentially like the typical residential neighbourhoods in Richmond, which are a half-mile in each direction. That is because the surveyors of about 140 years ago created a grid of square quarter-sections (160 acres minus bordering roadways), and a quarter-section often became a neighborhood. In a General Urban future, the Garden City Lands neighbourhood would have some of the listed supporting uses, including a park, like other Richmond neighbourhoods. At least in Richmond, that is what the label “General Urban” generally means.

When the 1100-word Metro letter is reduced to its basic argument, it goes something like this:

  1. Public and Open Space that is zoned Agricultural and in the ALR may include parks.
  2. An area that is designated “General Urban” (“intended for residential neighbourhoods and urban centres”) may include parks.
  3. Therefore “General Urban” is the proper designation for Public and Open Space that is zoned Agricultural and in the ALR.

That has the surface appearance of basic deductive reasoning, but it is NOT logical when one thinks about it.


Note: A later post will address another faulty comment in the Metro letter.


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