Council signs regional growth plan

Assured water, sewer to Thornhill

The drawn-out process of signing on to a regional plan came to an end last week as Maple Ridge council put its signature on it in the nick of time.

A 5-2 vote Tuesday evening formalized Maple Ridge’s approval of the Regional Growth Strategy, Metro Vancouver’s long-term plan for controlling growth in the Lower Mainland.

After the meeting, staff faxed in the decision to Metro Vancouver that evening to make the deadline.

Metro Vancouver’s region plan has been the topic of ongoing debate as councillors tried to balance regional planning with their desire for local decision making.

One change made was the assurance that Metro Vancouver will expand water and sewer services to Thornhill, east of 248th Street, which Maple Ridge has identified as its next suburban expansion area.

But after lobbying from Coun. Judy Dueck, changes were made to the plan to ensure Metro Vancouver would extend water and sewer services once the district reached trigger points in its Official Community Plan.

Council also wanted to know if Albion flats ever could be designated as a frequent transit development area and thus get better bus service from TransLink.

Staff replied that if land uses changed in the area, a frequent transit area could be “pursued for inclusion” in the district’s regional context statement, which explains how Maple Ridge’s official community plan fits with Metro Vancouver’s plan.

But that would require agreement from TransLink after intensive consultation with the agency about all of the district’s transportation needs.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie also wanted to know if the plan fostered economic competitiveness, but staff noted that a letter praising the plan from the provincial government doesn’t comment on the topic.

Maple Ridge council has discussed the plan for several years, at 19 previous meetings.

Council also wanted to know about the accuracy of projections for future employment, housing demand and population are, but were told that numbers were guidelines only.

The plan projects the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows area will hit a population of 117,000 by 2021 with 42,000 people working in the area.

Couns. Al Hogarth and Michael Morden voted against the plan.

Hogarth didn’t like it because he considered the new rural area category, which recognizes another 8,000 hectares as rural and exempt from urban development, a land freeze.

“If you don’t want to call it a green zone, call it a land freeze, because that’s what I consider it to be.”

However, the plan just identifies rural areas that have always been outside the urban boundary. Municipalities still have control over how those zones are used for rural purposes.

The plan also replaces the green zone, with the agricultural and conservation/recreation areas.

Hogarth also didn’t like the voting requirements that require the approval of a two-thirds majority of the Metro Vancouver board in order to change Maple Ridge’s urban boundary to allow industrial or suburban expansion.

The two-thirds requirement, however, allows easier expansion of urban areas compared to the previous requirement for unanimous Metro Vancouver board approval.

Maple Ridge led the campaign for that change in 2007 and even threatened to withdraw from the regional district over the issue.

Instead, Hogarth said only municipalities similar to Maple Ridge such as Langley should be allowed to vote on Maple Ridge requests, rather than Vancouver or Burnaby.

Coun. Linda King said later that the regional plan “was the best we can achieve when you have so many disparate groups and municipalities trying to reach agreement on something.”

But she would have preferred a tighter urban boundary and pointed out Maple Ridge has lots of empty space for new development in its current urban boundary. While municipalities can’t force private-sector development, they can dictate where it takes place and as a result achieve their policy goals, she added.

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