Retaining “existing designation” from old Metro bylaw?

This is a follow-up to the “False Metro logic re illegal General Urban designation of the Garden City Lands” post.

The background is that a Metro planner posted a Metro Vancouver letter, in response to lawyer Andrew Gage’s initial legal opinion, on the Environmental Law Alerts blog. The Metro letter claims that Richmond was just maintaining an existing designation (from the old Livable Regional Strategic Plan) when designating the Garden City Lands and the Department of National Defense Lands (DND Lands) to the east of it as “General Urban.”

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Executive summary: In the new Metro bylaw, the current (illegal) designation of the Garden City Lands and DND Lands is “General Urban.” The term General Urban means residential, including supporting uses. In the old Metro bylaw there are:

  • Zero times (none whatsoever) when the term General Urban is used
  • Many times where the word urban is used—with a range of meanings—including several times in “urban region” or “urban area,” expressions that mean the whole Metro region/area, including the Green Zone
  • One time where the word residential is used to mean residential, including supporting uses (page 9, where “residential” is distinguished from “commercial,” “industrial,” and “vacant land” within “urban uses,” which in turn is distinguished from “Green Zone and other non-urban uses”)
  • Zero times where the word urban is used to mean residential and supporting uses (or anything close to that)
  • Consequently zero times where the old Metro bylaw uses the word urban—or any other word or expression except residential—to mean General Urban, as used and defined in the new bylaw

Without a shadow of a doubt, the descriptive word urban in the old bylaw is not equivalent to General Urban in the new bylaw. To claim that it does, one does not know what one is talking about and/or is misleading the audience.

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The  Agricultural Land Commission and Andrew Gage’s final legal analysis, “Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and ALR Lands,” show that the General Urban designation is illegal, so the statement is irrelevant. The excuse that one is breaking the law because one is just doing what one has done before is obviously ludicrous. Just imagine trying it with a judge.

However, we discovered at a Richmond council meeting this week that some at Richmond’s City Hall are still clinging to the excuse like a piece of styrofoam after the lifeboat has sunk. I will therefore explain more fully why the statement that the new bylaw is just maintaining an existing designation is absolutely false (in addition to being irrelevant).

In the old Livable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP), which is the old bylaw that precedes the Regional Growth Strategy, the whole of the GVRD/Metro is called an urban region or urban area in several places. Within the urban area, there is only one zone or designationIt is called the Green Zone. Anything besides that is just urban area that is not Green Zone. Sometimes it is called “urban” to distinguish it from “Green Zone,” but “urban” is still just a fuzzy descriptive word. It is not a term, and it is certainly not what the new bylaw calls a “land use designation.”

Actually, since the new bylaw has passed third reading, it appears that the LRSP and the Green Zone are essentially dead, so I will start talking about each of them in the past tense (was, not is).

The Livable Region Strategic Plan indicated that two-thirds of the urban region was Green Zone. That meant that one-third was not. Certainly, that one-third of the urban region was all urban in a fuzzy sense. Just as certainly, that one-third of the urban region was not all what is now called General Urban.

What is “General Urban”? The new bylaw defines it like this:

General Urban areas are intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres, and are supported by shopping, services, institutions, recreational facilities and parks. (page 9)

If we focus appropriately on the central intent, rather than the peripheral support, “General Urban” means “Residential.” In the old bylaw (LRSP), “Residential” was very clearly only one of the uses in the one-third of the urban region that was not Green Zone. That one-third that was not Green Zone certainly included “Industrial” and “Commerical” uses and a large amount of “Vacant land,” as well as uncategorized uses. We know that because the LRSP says so on page 9.

(An aside here: If you are following along in the PDF of the old LRSP, be aware that one needs to add 2 to the page number to get the location in the PDF. Sorry for the interruption.)

On page 9 of the old bylaw, the LRSP, we see this analysis of the urban region (the Metro area):

Green Zone and other non-urban uses: 72%*

Urban uses (residential, commercial and industrial): 20%

Vacant urban land: 8%

*Note: Since we know from page 20 that the Green Zone was two-thirds of the urban region (the Metro area), or roughly 67%, so we can deduce that the “other non-urban uses” are 5%.

A key point is that the “residential,” which is briefly mentioned in the old bylaw, is roughly equivalent to “General Urban” in the new bylaw, and it most certainly is not all the urban region other than Green Zone. Even apart from commercial and industrial land, there was still 13% of the urban region (the Metro area) that was not Green Zone and not residential/General Urban. Since there was lots of commercial and industrial uses, the amount of the urban region (Metro area) that was neither Green Zone nor residential was much higher than 13%.

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To recap:

  • “Residential” in the old bylaw = “General Urban” in the new bylaw.
  • In the old bylaw, roughly half of the 33% of the Metro area that was not Green Zone was residential, which means that roughly half was not residential or (to use the new term “General Urban”).
  • The Garden City Lands were most certainly not residential, since they had no buildings and no population and the Agricultural Land Commission ruled twice in the past five years that they cannot be used for residential and then informed Metro that they cannot be designated as residential (“General Urban”).
  • “General Urban” (residential) is what the Garden City Lands most certainly were not.
  • “General Urban” (a term in the new bylaw) and “urban” (a fuzzy descriptive word in the old bylaw) sound alike because they both have the word “urban,” but the pretence that they are therefore the same designation will never stand up to examination by any intelligent person who compares the source documents, the two bylaws, and it will never stand up in court.

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The above is the main points. The rest is just more evidence.

  • When I found a map showing the Garden City Lands in an urban color, I soon noticed that the whole City of Vancouver was not in that colour. The urban grey, a neutral color, allowed the growth concentration color, the Green Zone color, etc., to stand out. The neutral urban grey color is simply the default because the Metro Region is urban in a general sense. The grey color for Richmond obviously includes commercial, industrial, and vacant areas, not just residential (or “General Urban”) areas. (That’s on numbered page 32, which is PDF page 34.)
  • I also found a Green Zone map that showed the Green Zone in green and striped green. Most of the rest of the map was urban in the sense of being the rest of the GVRD/Metro region, but that did not equate to being General Urban—”intended for residential neighbourhoods and centres,” with other supporting uses. (That’s on numbered page 28, which is PDF page 20.)
  • When I did a search for “urban” in the PDF of the LRSP, I could find no instance where it was capitalized to indicate a formal name. (It was occasionally capitalized for usage reasons that are not relevant, such as for the first word in a sentence.)
  • Furthermore, we know from Harold Steves, who has been on Richmond council forever (give or take a few years), that there was no council decision to not put the Garden City Lands (or the Department of National Defence Lands to the east) in the Green Zone. The non-event simply non-happened at a time when even a conservation-minded people like Coun. Steves didn’t notice what wasn’t happening. That’s not surprising, since it’s hard to notice everything that actually is happening, let alone notice everything that’s not happening too.
  • In units of area, the 13% that the LRSP called “vacant land” or did not categorize was 374 square kilometres. To put that in perspective, it was almost three times the total area of Richmond. Fifteen years after the LRSP came in, the new Regional Growth Strategy does tries harder to categorize everything, although it does still have a miscellaneous category of special study areas (including land that was previously in the Green Zone as it happens.  The appropriate category for the Garden City Lands, as the Agricultural Land Commission has very clearly stated, is certainly not General Urban.

Incidentally, it would be inappropriate to call the Garden City Lands a special study area in the new bylaw, since the Agricultural Land Commission made clear when rejecting ALR-exclusion applications in 2006 and 2009 that the property belongs in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

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