The Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy: The UDI Program

February 2, 2011

Peter Kenward, the Chair of Clark Wilson LLP’s Municipal and Environmental Law Groups, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Urban Development Institute (Pacific Region), spoke yesterday to 250 people regarding the proposed Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy. The program, hosted by UDI, was attended by a cross section of Metro Vancouver, including Councillors, developers from every sector, planners, municipal CAOs, and legal and other advisors.

Peter opened by noting that many people feel passionately about one or more aspects of the Regional Growth Strategy, and a number of very good people had put a lot of effort into the document as it has evolved. He added that generally speaking a lot of what you hear about the Regional Growth Strategy relates to issues of principle, such as:

  • whether the balance of jurisdiction between municipalities and Metro lie more in Metro’s favour than it is at present;
  • whether enough density is being established alongside transit;
  • whether the Agricultural Land Reserve should take precedence over the regional plan or vice versa,

but it was important to go beyond that and delve into what the effects of the proposed Regional Growth Strategy were likely to be. The analysis had to include:

  • the impact the RGS would have on municipalities in exercising their land use and development regulation powers; and
  • whether the RGS was likely to be effective in achieving its goals, relative to other options.

Peter, who is the Co-Chair of the UDI / Metro Vancouver / TransLink Liaison Committee, noted that the Committee had been discussing the evolving forms of the document for some time, and, recognizing that the RGS had important implications for the private sector generally, and those who bring developments about, UDI had made clear throughout that it would be holding a program to review the proposed RGS with UDI members, once a version was settled on.

Peter’s comprehensive powerpoint presentation can be found here.

Peter’s conclusions, as far as the three core objectives of the Regional Growth Strategy were concerned, were that:

  • given the limits in the legislation (which essentially allows Metro to block development, but not direct that it occur), the proposed RGS may be relatively ineffective in focusing urban development along transit;
  • it is not clear that the provision for industrial land is sufficient for the needs of the Port economy, given that the relevant studies have not yet been released; and
  • one can question whether Metro has an urban containment problem, given the ALR and the green zone, and also whether the proposed containment regime is preferable to the one already in place.

He commented that, rather than the advancing of those goals, the main effect of the proposed Regional Growth Strategy would seem to be the addition of a significant layer of required Metro approvals, the scope of which could be expected to increase over time. The RGS could also lead to Metro extractions in exchange for relaxations from those rules. And interestingly, the proposed RGS provided that Metro could change the designation of lands in a municipality over the objections of that municipality.

During the course of his presentation, Peter noted that Vancouver already had one of the least affordable housing markets in the world, relative to average household employment earnings, and that the Regional Growth Strategy did not appear to significantly address the factors that lead to that. The Business Council of BC had commented earlier that the Regional Growth Strategy was largely oblivious to the critical importance of the region’s gateway economy, and insensitive to competitiveness, the cost of doing business, and the need for regulatory efficiency.

Peter noted that there was a three stage process for the adoption of the proposed Regional Growth Strategy. The first was the initial Metro stage, which was now completed. The second was a municipal stage, which had just commenced. The third was a dispute resolution process to resolve any differences. Councils now have 60 days to review the plan, and, if they decide to, take input from their citizens about how they should be responding in light of the effects the RGS would have on their municipality.

Peter’s presentation was followed by a market perspective, from Richard Wozny, Principal ofSite Economics Ltd. Richard emphasized that the Port was a critical competitive advantage of the Metro region, being one of a handful of major port cities facing onto Asia. The competitiveness of the Port, relative to Seattle, Portland, etc, was dependant on providing adequate land for distribution facilities, rather than forcing such facilities into congested areas that drive up logistics costs. He added that an opportunity was also being wasted to make better use of lands around transit stations in areas that are weak for logistics uses.

Richard’s presentation is linked here.

The municipal perspective was provided by:

both of whom played an active role during the development of the Regional Growth Strategy, and had written excellent, but different, reports setting out their views .

Jim and Lou both gave their support to the Regional Growth Strategy, and expressed the view that it would be business as usual for developments that complied with the plan. Both expected positive future dealings with Metro, although Jim added that the issue of how Metro might act once the powers that the RGS provided for were in place did cause some anxiety.

The private sector perspective was provided by:

Kevin and Andrew both expressed concerns about the proposed Regional Growth Strategy. They echoed, and gave a variety of illustrations of, how the concerns the Business Council had expressed regarding the impact on job growth and job creation would apply in practice. They also expressed concerns about the impact on housing affordability, given the RGS’s lack of responsiveness to the underpinnings of that problem.

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Peter Kenward


Partner

Peter Kenward is a Partner of the firm and Chair of the Municipal and Environmental Law Groups. He is also a member of the Commercial Real Estate Group.

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