This is a supplementary analysis to our previous post, Regionwide issue: Development vs agriculture – Southlands (Delta/Tsawwassen) public hearing at Metro Vancouver May 1.
We are now coming to a critical moment on this all-important case. Much has been said. The final decision is to be made by elected officials. Politicians. With their votes on this development proposal, our mayors and councillors in the region will reveal where they stand. Ultimately, this development and Public Hearing is a test of our politicians, of Metro Vancouver as a regional government, and of the Regional Growth Strategy. And this is an election year, with civic elections on November 15, 2014.
On one side are city council (i.e., individual politicians) of the Corporation of Delta and the developer (Century Industries Ltd.) supporting this development. In the middle, Metro Vancouver staff have pointed out the complexities (see below). On the opposite side is the strong opposition from a majority of people in the local community.
Metro’s “Regional Planning and Agriculture Committee” found that this decision was too important for the 14-member committee (all elected officials — mayors and councillors) to bear responsibility, so they put the Public Hearing and decision before the entire Board of 40 Directors (again, all elected officials).
Metro Vancouver staff, in their report to officials (the Regional Planning and Agriculture Committee, meeting date 7-Mar-2014), indicate that they recognize that the Southlands development proposal does not meet the five goals of the Regional Growth Strategy. They present the issue as complex due to the developer’s offered gift of land (in return for approval for the development) versus non-compliance with RGS goals.
The staff report concludes (see page 20/74 of the Public Hearing documents): “Metro Vancouver’s role in this issue is to comment on the consistency of the proposed amendment with Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our Future – to assess whether the benefits are sufficient to offset impacts on regional growth strategy objectives.” Text of the Summary / Conclusion of the staff report is provided further below.
This all gets into a serious and timely topic, as it is becoming the “norm” for municipalities in Metro Vancouver to approve rezoning (i.e., permitting increases in height and density of buildings, thereby creating profit for developers) in return for amenity contributions. Civic reporter Jeff Lee covered this very topic in the Vancouver Sun on April 25, 2014.
“Vancouver reviews community amenity fees”
Corporation of Delta Proposed Regional Growth Strategy Amendment for Southlands
Regional Planning and Agriculture Committee Meeting Date: March 7, 2014
SUMMARY / CONCLUSION
The analysis completed by Metro Vancouver staff demonstrates the inherent and complex tradeoffs of the proposed Metro 2040 amendment that would facilitate the Southlands development proposal.
From a regional perspective, a fundamental question is if there is a compelling rationale or benefit for allowing significant residential development outside of the urban containment boundary. The major gain from a regional perspective for allowing residential and commercial development outside the urban containment boundary in this particular instance is the donation of 80% of the site to public ownership with an aim to securing it for agricultural and park use in perpetuity. There is no doubt that this transfer allows greater control over future land uses in the area on the part of the municipality and would provide closure for a long-standing source of tension in the local community. Given the municipality’s stated intention of applying to have some of these lands reinstated in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and that these lands are currently in private ownership and therefore ‘at greater risk of development’, this is a significant regional and local gain.
However, it is a significant challenge to determine what level or amount of regional and local benefit is sufficient to allow development outside of the urban containment boundary when it is clear that there is sufficient space to accommodate projected population and employment growth within the existing community.
A key issue with the potential to set precedent is the notion that public ownership of land enhances protection above and beyond regulation alone, and is a substantial community benefit. Given that the vast majority of agricultural lands in the region are privately owned, accepting this amendment could be seen to signal to those land owners, that subdividing their property, proposing to develop a small percentage of the land, and dedicating the rest to public ownership is an acceptable, even desirable proposal. This could, on a broader regional level, lead to greater speculation of agricultural land and proposals of this nature, thereby undermining fundamental values inherent in the regional growth strategy.
Staff recognizes Delta’s aspirations and support for the proposal. There are numerous community benefits, not the least of which is the resolution of a long-standing, divisive issue with a solution that sees the innovative development of only 20% of the site, and the remaining 80% turned over to the municipality for conservation, recreation and agricultural uses. The landowner’s thoughtfulness, consideration of community values, and commitment to providing an innovative, sustainable proposal should be commended.
Metro Vancouver’s role in this issue is to comment on the consistency of the proposed amendment with Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our Future – to assess whether the benefits are sufficient to offset impacts on regional growth strategy objectives.