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Board approves growth plan for Metro Vancouver

Metro Vancouver's board of directors this morning approved the final draft of its Regional Growth Strategy, after nearly four years of planning and public consultations.

The main thrust of the plan, Metro Vancouver 2040, Shaping Out Future is creating what it calls "complete communities” in the region; more walkable urban centres with public transit, amenities and jobs close to where people live. To this end, it sets out specific land use designations -- general urban, industrial, mixed employment -- within a new urban containment boundary.

But also within this boundary are parcels of agricultural land that have been designated "special study areas," where "a municipality has expressed an intention to alter the existing land use, and is anticipating a future regional land use designation amendment," according to the plan. This has some people worried, including members of a citizens' group that held an "11th hour meeting" last night to publicize their concerns that the plan will further erode the Agricultural Land Reserve.

In a press release issued after the vote, board chair Lois Jackson said the plan will "help curb urban sprawl, protect our precious farmland and conserve the stunning legacy of nature we cherish."

But Harold Steves, the only board member who voted against the plan, disagrees.

"Every time we bring a new regional plan, there's a new study area or a number of new study areas, and over a period of time the [agricultural] land commission gives up," Steves told the Georgia Straight. "And you end with these lands being removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve."

Herb Barbolet, a food policy researcher and associate at the SFU Centre for Sustainable Community Development UBC, also said the new designation "is a dangerous signal."

"It requires that those of us who are concerned about where our food is going to come from are going to have to be even more vigilant," Barbolet told The Tyee.

Gordon Price, director of the City Program at SFU and a former regional district board member, said the plan won't necessarily make it easier to remove land form the ALR.

"There's a legislative framework that comes from the province," Price told The Tyee. "It would depend very much on the individual application or condition."

As far as protecting farmland, he said, "in terms of North America, we're doing really good."

However, Price is not convinced that the plan will address the concentration of jobs in the region that results in car dependence. "Municipalities haven't made the sacrifice or commitment, or have had the ability to say 'no' to the industrial park or the large retail stores; that auto-dependent design," he said.

The plan now has to be signed by Metro Vancouver's 22 member municipalities and districts, the Tsawwassen First Nation and the South Coast BC Transportation Authority.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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