Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Metro Vancouver and Regional Land-Use

Metro Vancouver is responsible for regional land-use planning, and has been in the process of implementing a new regional growth strategy which was adopted in 2011. As part of the process, every municipality in the region has to show how their official community plan (which guides local land-use) conforms to the regional growth strategy’s land-use designation. If the official community plan and regional growth strategy don’t align, a municipality can ask the Metro Vancouver board to change the regional growth strategy’s land-use designations. If Metro Vancouver doesn’t allow the change, the municipality must change its official community plan.

The Metro Vancouver board is made up of mayors and councillors from the region who each represent their respective communities. Voting is weighted, so municipalities like the City of Vancouver and Surrey have more say on the board than municipalities like Anmore.

While I generally support regional land-use planning as it limits sprawl and helps preserve rural, agricultural, and industrial areas, I do have an issue with one of the new regional land-use designations in Metro Vancouver.

Land is designated as General Urban, Industrial, Mixed Employment, Rural, Agricultural, and Conservation and Recreation. While I’m sure that most of the regional land-use designations are pretty self-explanatory, the one odd land-use designation is Mixed Employment. The Mixed Employment zone allows anything except for residential development. The early drafts of the regional growth strategy did not contain Mixed Employment zones and were, instead, Industrial Zone. The Industrial zone would not allow office-only or residential uses. For better or worse, Metro Vancouver created the Industrial Zone because there was concern that industry was being slowly being pushed out of the region due to residential growth.

Because of concern from affected local government that didn’t want to see large chunks of land in their community designated as Industrial, Metro Vancouver created the Mixed Employment zone as a compromise to give municipalities more flexible land-use options. Because of this compromise, auto-oriented office parks are now codified within the region, as more sustainable mixed-use projects are not allowed in the Mixed Employment zone.

Township of Langley's proposed changes to the urban containment boundary and regional land use designations that were denied by Metro Vancouver. Click map to enlarge.

The Township of Langley has been testing the limits of regional and local planning authority in the region, and I’ve posted about the on-going battle between the Township and Metro Vancouver over the proposed Trinity Western University district. This summer, the Township submitted its first round of regional land-use change requests. These requests were heard and then denied this month by Metro Vancouver. You can read more about these proposed changes in an earlier blog post. The Township was looking at changing land from Agricultural to General Urban around Murrayville. Also, the Township was looking at changing land around 200th Street from Mixed Employment to General Urban.

With the introduction of the new Park and Ride near 200th Street and Highway 1, the Township of Langley has been working on changing the area’s plans from auto-oriented to becoming more transit-friendly and walkable. With Metro Vancouver’s decision to deny the Township of Langley the ability change land around the area, which is currently Mixed Employment, to General Urban, ironically Metro Vancouver is actually preventing the sustainable growth of the Township of Langley. The "livable region" is actually promoting auto-oriented land uses.

While I value the role Metro Vancouver plays in preserving the rural, agricultural, and industrial land base, the Mixed Employment region land-use designation needs to disappear, as it is negatively impacting the livability of our region.

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