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Corrigan lashes Metro Vancouver growth plan holdouts

Coquitlam's rejection of strategy may trigger arbitration by the province
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan chairs Metro's Regional Planning Committee.

Metro Vancouver may ask the province to intervene after Coquitlam and Port Moody both rejected its proposed regional growth strategy, blocking a new consensus on how to control development.

Eighteen member municipalities agreed to adopt the plan, as did the Tsawwassen First Nation, TransLink and the two neighbouring regional districts.

Coquitlam is the main holdout, tabling a broad rejection of the new growth plan, which would replace the outdated Livable Region Strategic Plan and clamp down on urban sprawl, development of farmland and the exodus of jobs to remote business parks where most workers must drive.

Port Moody indicated it could approve the plan if the long-promised Evergreen Line and Murray-Clarke Connector are built, but it won't accept the targets it has been assigned for population, housing and job growth until that happens.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who chairs the regional planning committee, said Port Moody's objections may be resolved.

But he said the refusal of Coquitlam council – which unanimously voted down the plan as too vague, inconsistent and exerting too much control over local decisions – is more problematic and will likely have to go to arbitration.

"We've done everything we can to find some middle ground and it's apparent there is none," he said.

A recommendation to seek binding arbitration goes to a special vote of Metro's board Friday.

Corrigan accused Coquitlam council of being swayed by developers who don't want the plan's tougher restrictions on the lucrative redevelopment of industrial and agricultural land.

"Greed is a motivating force," he said. "There's significant influence from the UDI (Urban Development Institute). They've been lobbying to get this delayed and put off."

It's up to the provincial Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development to decide whether to mediate or arbitrate the dispute over the growth plan now that the March 22 deadline has passed without unanimous consent.

Time is of the essence, Corrrigan said, because civic elections are coming this fall.

Failure to pass the plan now means educating a new set of councillors and mayors that will be elected in November, he said, sending the plan back to square one, with the potential for years more of negotiations and discord.

He also acknowledged the paused growth strategy could become a significant election issue in civic races, drawing anti-growth strategy candidates funded by pro-development backers.

He called Coquitlam's opposition to the plan "inarticulate" and offering little more than general distrust of the regional board.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart called Corrigan's remarks "inappropriate."

He maintains the draft regional plan has been so watered down with amendments and local exemptions that it's now rife with inconsistencies.

"I don't think it's a regional plan," he said. "It's a collection of local plans. I don't think it will accomplish what it was intended to accomplish."

West Vancouver excluded riparian zones and smaller parks from the conservation and recreation area designations of the plan, he said, while most other cities do include them.

Golf courses are designated as urban, recreation and in some cases agricultural depending on the whim of the host city, he said.

Stewart said Burnaby tabled 37 objections to the draft plan – all of which were resolved in the city's favour – calling it another example of regional officials bending repeatedly to civic wishes in order to preserve some semblance of a regional plan.

"I want a regional plan that has teeth and will achieve what's best for this region," he said.

Stewart did not formally vote against the plan at the regional board although he spoke in opposition. Richmond's Harold Steves was the only director to vote against it.

Corrigan said the plan has broad support across the region and the establishment of an urban containment boundary and new protections to retain industrial land will help fight sprawl.

The plan does include study areas where each city is allowed time to firm up how the rules should apply and where new boundaries should be drawn.

Critics contend the study areas may be used to pry land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve for development.

But Corrigan said it's difficult to take a snapshot in time right now and expect local zoning to be fully developed, adding the study areas provide needed flexibility.

"If the plan falls short in any areas it's that we didn't try to assert dominance in regional planning, we preferred to err on the side of local autonomy," he said.

There's also concern smaller cities may be outvoted by the biggest three – Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby – in weighted votes on how the strategy is implemented in the future.

A report by Metro Vancouver chief administrative officer Johnny Carline concludes binding arbitration is necessary as further talks with Coquitlam will likely prove futile.

He said Coquitlam's objections "seek to remove all meaning" from the plan and amount to "fundamental philosophical opposition to the underlying legislation."

Carline also noted Coquitlam's planning director chaired the staff-level working group of counterparts around the region who played a key role in crafting the plan, yet council has taken the opposite position.

The plan would provide a new master plan for development across the region as Metro's population grows by more than a million to to 3.4 million by 2040.

Planners began work on the new strategy nine years ago, but work has been underway in earnest for the last three years and a total of 46 public meetings have been held.