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Province sends Metro back to talk with growth plan holdout

Metro Vancouver is to receive more than a million more people over the next 30 years. The regional growth strategy aims to ensure that happens efficiently without sacrificing farmland and green space. - File
Metro Vancouver is to receive more than a million more people over the next 30 years. The regional growth strategy aims to ensure that happens efficiently without sacrificing farmland and green space.
— image credit: File

The province has rejected Metro Vancouver's call to force a quick end to the impasse with the City of Coquitlam over the new regional growth plan that has been accepted by all other member cities.

Instead of binding arbitration, Metro must follow a 60-day non-binding process to resolve the dispute with Coquitlam, starting by May 16.

Regional district directors were notified of the decision from community, sport and cultural development minister Ida Chong at a Metro board meeting Friday.

Metro officials had previously said they saw no chance of reaching agreement with Coquitlam on the new regional growth strategy without going to arbitration.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, chair of the regional planning committee, said he's deeply concerned the timelines will make the growth strategy a political football in civic elections this fall, with the risk it will be unravelled if new councils are elected in November vowing to renegotiate the accord.

"I dread that possibility," Corrigan said. "Those who have tried to obstruct the plan are succeeding – with the help of the minister."

The holdout Coquitlam council rejected the new plan as inconsistent, riddled with exemptions and vesting too much control in the hands of the regional board.

Even if Coquitlam's concerns can be dealt with during the initial 60-day period, another 60-day acceptance period then kicks in during which Metro must resubmit the revised plan to all member cities for approval.

Other cities can't reopen parts of the plan they've already agreed to – they can only object to amendments made as a result of negotiations with Coquitlam.

The new development master plan aims to focus new construction within an urban containment boundary so the region can take in a million more people over the next three decades without sacrificing farmland and green space.

It also adds mechanisms to limit the loss of industrial land and replaces the outdated Livable Region Strategic Plan.

Coquitlam Coun. Lou Sekora said the delays are the fault of the Metro board because it tried to "use a sledgehammer" against his city by seeking arbitration instead of immediately trying a more conciliatory approach.

"That is not going to be tolerated," he said, adding he's thankful the province rejected the request.

Coquitlam had asked the province to choose the non-binding dispute resolution process.

If the issue does drag into the elections and the next term of councils, Sekora said, "they deserve that because of the way we've been handled. Never stomp on a municipality when you don't have to."

Full arbitration is still an option if non-binding talks fail, but it's one of three potential final settlement methods that also include final proposal arbitration and peer panel settlement.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart committed to work as fast as possible to find agreement.

Corrigan said he will take Stewart at his word and trust that Coquitlam won't try to "rag the puck " past November.

Corrigan previously accused Coquitlam councillors of being swayed by land developers who fear tighter regional development restrictions.

While some Coquitlam councillors flat-out oppose the growth strategy as a Metro power grab, Stewart said he believes changes could still satisfy a majority of his council.

A key issue, he said, is that the plan fails to define the term "regionally significant" and leaves that to local cities to determine for themselves.

As a result, he said, some streamside riparian areas are protected in conservation and recreation zones in some cities but not in others.

Likewise, golf courses and ski hills are treated differently under the plan depending on the whim of each city, because of amendments tailored to each city to gain their agreement.

Metro's board voted Friday to delegate the handling of the dispute process to its intergovernmental committee, which aims to work quickly to meet the deadline set out by Chong.

The process has already consumed several years, three sets of consultations, dozens of public meetings and thousands of hours of staff time.

Eighteen member municipalities agreed to adopt the plan by a March 22 deadline, as did the Tsawwassen First Nation, TransLink and the two neighbouring regional districts.

Port Moody council initially rejected the regional growth strategy, but agreed April 8 to accept the plan after Metro consented to local amendments.

Those changes exempt Port Moody from meeting its growth targets until Evergreen Line and Murray-Clarke Overpass projects proceed.

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