"Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our Future was adopted on July 29, 2011 after being unanimously accepted by all local governments in the region. The Regional Growth Strategy looks out to 2040 and provides a framework on how to accommodate the over one million people and 600,000 new jobs. . . ."
POPULATION and job estimates notwithstanding, who is making the decisions about how North Shore municipalities evolve?
Is it elected councils whose autonomy was said to have been strengthened by the 2003 Community Charter?
Is it members of the Metro Vancouver board that we still cannot elect to their regional ambitions?
Is it the provincial government that, by pulling the strings of Metro, TransLink and school districts, renders municipal budgets vulnerable to development overkill?
Or is it simply that developers see North Shore municipalities as ripe for the plucking?
Whatever the answers, one only needs to travel across the three communities to know there must be a reason behind the drastic (out-of-control?) escalation of construction that has occurred over the past five years.
There is barely one main route clear of contractors' barriers and traffic delays.
For decades now, North Shore municipalities have been mired in a city bog of "not going to discuss it" amalgamation resistance.
But when their zoning decisions and transportation corridors are inextricably linked, residents have a right to expect councils to co-operate and to draft official community plans that complement one another.
Decisions by the city to approve wall-to-wall density force its neighbours to underwrite the cost of recreation facilities.
The potential Lynn Valley Town Centre proposal in the District of North Vancouver is another example: Does it make sense to consider three highrise towers at that location, when the traffic they generate will end up on the city's Grand Boulevard? Vehicular access to Highway 1 and to that north-south corridor - a designated Emergency Route - is already jammed at several points on weekdays.
Even without the towers, fire trucks and ambulances have nowhere to go when three lanes of traffic are at a red-light standstill.
What of the imminent problems at the Low Level Road-Fern Street-Main Street access points when those projects go ahead?
Where are the transit plans and where will the recreation facilities go?
But before we discuss the emergent problems associated with specific development proposals, we need to know what makes all this activity possible.
The cracks appeared when the first Campbell government tinkered with the long-standing Local Government Act and added the new Charter. By default, this enhanced the powers of regional government and gave the province a direct conduit through which to exert its policies on the local scene.
The changes were made on the pretext of giving councils more freedom to conduct their local affairs and of allowing citizens a greater voice in their community. In practice, the result has been quite the opposite, especially on the North Shore.
Councils are caught playing the role of arbitrator between developers, the dictates of Metro and citizens awash in expensive "public input" sessions that attendees perceive to be little more than "this is what we plan to do - any questions?"
Developers' interests lie in maximizing their bottom line. Few would have a problem with that provided municipal bylaws are respected and councils protect the wellbeing of residents by standing firm on those rules.
The problem arises when, over and over again, councils buckle too readily when developers apply the pressure - and the outcomes have driven some citizens to check the lists of election campaign donations.
The formula goes like this: A developer presents an application to council, often with the active encouragement of staff.
The density and scope of the project are wildly at variance with OCP guidelines and zoning bylaws and, as former city mayoralty candidate Ron Polly said, "That's where the dance begins."
The dance continues, often over many expensive years for all concerned, until at long last, the project is given the go-ahead - likely at the level the developer had in mind all along and way beyond the OCP vision.
Two things make that possible: the Charter that diminished citizens' rights to referendum and recall and the dictates of the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy.
Ostensibly, the RGS was an innocent but necessary update to the GVRD 1996 Livable Region Strategy. But when Metro Vancouver applied the force of an artificial deadline for unanimous ratification by all councils in the region, the varied concerns many councils expressed received little attention as municipalities rammed the draft through with insufficient time for sober thought.
West Vancouver took on faith Metro's promise that its Upper Lands would
be protected as a special study area and then ended up with two contentious developments of its own, while the City of Coquitlam balked at Metro's new urban containment boundaries.
Last June, District of North Vancouver Coun. Mike Little told me his opinion of the process: "I believe the [RGS review] process was a waste of resources," he began.
"It sought to stop a locally elected council from being able to change its land uses without [first] getting assent from the region. While the province required us to sign a regional strategy, it never directed the regions to include a clause that overrules local authority."
Little then explained that, because the district had just completed its "20-year visioning process through the OCP" council felt confident that "what [it] was locking in" to the RGS was "a good fit." I don't share his confidence.
Although the district OCP designated the areas currently under developer assault as being suitable for some increase in density, I doubt residents anticipated the totality of the increases now being proposed.
And in the final analysis, should it not be residents who approve these decisions?
© Copyright 2013