A tentative deal has been reached that would see holdout city Coquitlam approve Metro Vancouver’s new regional growth strategy without changes, ending a months-long impasse.
Coquitlam and Metro reps met again July 5 and emerged with a set of assurances to settle the dispute that had been in mediated talks ahead of potential arbitration.
None of the commitments result in any change to the text of the agreement itself, averting the need to go to a new round of public hearings on the strategy.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Metro’s representative in the dispute-resolution talks, was cautious, saying the potential agreement still has to fleshed out by staff and be ratified by both Coquitlam council and the full Metro board.
“If everything works out it would satisfy Coquitlam and they would turn their minds to consideration of the strategy and to adopt it,” he said.
Brodie was hopeful the growth strategy – the master plan governing Metro Vancouver development for decades to come – can be passed by the end of the month.
Metro officials had feared that failing to reach a deal would force a lengthier arbitration process that might extend past this fall’s civic elections and put the accord at risk of unraveling.
Coquitlam had wanted the ability to change some land-use designations on as little as a one-third vote of the Metro board and to force a review of the growth strategy every five years on a one-third vote of the board.
Metro reps refused to consider anything less than majority votes and Coquitlam dropped both ideas.
Metro does promise to conduct a board workshop, planning staff workshop and public meeting about the plan every five years, regardless of whether the board votes to conduct a formal review that could trigger potential changes.
Coquitlam’s demand for mechanisms to gauge how the strategy is working is being addressed through bolstered benchmarking measures under Metro’s annual budget process.
Some changes to Metro procedural bylaws will be required.
Coquitlam’s other key concerns – that the growth plan is too inconsistent, providing too many exemptions for each city and failiing to define what constitutes “regionally significant” – would be referred back to a technical group of planners to determine within a year whether changes are recommended.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said he still has concerns about the plan but believes his city can move forward.
“All of our five concerns have been addressed,” he said. “We have some give and take on both sides.”
Maureen Enser, executive director of the Urban Development Institute, said she had hoped the dispute would provide the chance for broader consultations about the concerns lodged by a coalition of business groups about Metro’s growth strategy.
She said the plan doesn’t go far enough to consider economic issues.
“We have concerns about the increase in red tape to get projects approved,” Enser said. “The economy was not given sufficient attention and this plan is not sustainable.”
The business coalition argued 70 per cent of the region’s land base is tied up in the Agricultural Land Reserve or protected as conservation and recreation, and therefore called for fewer restrictions on developing the remaining 30 per cent.
Enser called the strategy too narrowly focused, failing to meet the requirements of goods movement, the port and the Pacific Gateway.
“We need to consider the provincial interest here and the importance of this region not just to British Columbia but to Western Canada.”
The region forecasts more than a million new residents will arrive over the next 30 years and the strategy aims to ensure that happens without sacrificing farmland and green space, while increasing density along transit corridors.
It also aims to stem the conversion of industrial land to other uses.
The growth plan will be more enforceable than its predecessor – the Livable Region Strategic Plan was repeatedly defied by some cities – but will provide a mechanism for appealing board decisions.