Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Green Zone: Past and Future

The history of the Green Zone, which is also the history of our Livable Region Plan (LRSP), goes back to the 1960’s. Back then it was realized that there needed to be some form of regional planning for the fast growing region. Some work was done, but the provincial government at the time didn’t like what they were hearing. Goodbye regional planning. In the late 1970's, as the story goes, people driving over the Port Mann Bridge noticed that their pristine mountain view where turning into a view of boxes on the hillside. At the same time, farmland was disappearing at an alarming rate. It was at this time that our province’s regional districts were formed, the Agricultural Land Reserves was started, and the famous drawing (which I don’t have) of our region being a compact region in a sea of green was produced. All precursors to the LRSP. This was not enough. While the regional district had the able to provide land use planning for areas outside of municipal boundaries, they were setup to be regional service delivery organizations (Parks, water, etc.) controlled by their member municipalities more than anything. By the 1990’s, our region's planners where asking for a regional plan. The GVRD , as it was then called, got back into the regional planning business and started work on the LRSP. Under the law, the region didn’t have any authority to enforce the plan on any municipality that didn’t want it. It was a plan of consensus. The Green Zone was part of this plan. It included ALR land, parks, our watershed, and what I’ll call special environmental areas. The idea was that municipal governments would have to do everything in their power to protect this Green Zone for future generations. A map was included in the LRSP that showed the general area of what was considered green. There were some errors on the document but from what I understand, since it was conceptual, it didn’t really matter.

Now to today and what I posted yesterday. Though not its original intent, the Green Zone is now a de facto urban growth boundary. Metro Vancouver is looking at mapping out the Green Zone (land protected from urban development) right down to the parcel. I think this is a good idea to accurately document our Green Zone (aka regional regulations) and therefore remove any doubt as to what is in the zone and what isn’t. There also needs to be some checks and balances. First, the ALR land should be automatically included and removed from the Green Zone to stay consistent with the Agricultural Land Commission. Second, there needs to be an easy way (not going to the Metro Vancouver board) to correct errors in the green zone to remove land that accidentally got included and include land that was accidentally left out. Basic housekeeping stuff.

The larger issue is how to protect open space that is neither truly farmland or “special”. Also, how do we provide a clear boundary between urban and rural? This is an issue that really only affects communities east of the Fraser/Pitt River. In the Township of Langley, they have been working on an arbor (park) ribbon that would provide a buffer between the urban and rural for over 10 years. I think that is a good idea for all communities with a rural/urban interface. Another idea might be to create a land trust of open space. With money from the province, it could be used to purchase land and leasing it out with certain provisions to keep it rural. The purchase of Burns Bog is a great example of all governments coming together to purchase land that was going to be developed. This is just a start; there are many other creative solutions to protect open space that is a win for us as a region and the owner whose land becomes protected.

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