The Regional Growth Strategy – Effective or What?
On November 22, 2011, the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) Board adopted “Regional District of Nanaimo Regional Growth Strategy Bylaw No. 1615” shortened to RGS. The stated aim of the RGS is to establish a more sustainable pattern of population growth and development in the region over a twenty-five year period by encouraging and directing most new development in the region within designated Growth Containment Boundaries (GCB), thereby keeping urban settlement compact, protecting the integrity of rural and resource areas, protecting the environment, increasing servicing efficiency, and retaining mobility within the region.
Within the Area ‘A’ OCP, for example, there is a designated Growth Containment Boundary (GCB) that defines the Cedar Rural Village Centre – the area in which higher density development may be permitted if serviced by community water and sewer. Other Electoral (rural) Areas of the RDN have a similar constraint imposed by the RGS. In many other communities, including Metro Vancouver, the GCB of the various municipalities is drawn in such a manner that lands within the ALR and Forest Resource Lands are excluded.
So why did the City of Nanaimo change their GCB to align with their city limits? Why is the Town of Qualicum Beach requesting to do the same? I believe that the answer is quite simple. It removes the requirement for partnering municipalities to have the RDN by way of the RGS to consent to any change in either the form or amount of development within the municipal boundaries. Essentially the town or city has full and complete autonomy over land use decisions within its boundary.
What does the town or city need to do in order align the GCB with its boundary? While such a move seems to require a major amendment to the RGS, the RGS allows for a major amendment to become a minor amendment if the RGS amendment application by the city or town follows a full “OCP review process”. Here’s the kicker. The scope and work plan of what constitutes a full OCP review is up to the discretion of the municipal Council, that is, if the Council says that it has conducted the full OCP review then this cannot be disputed by the Regional District.
In a March 12, 2014 Supreme Court of B.C. judgment with the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), now Metro Vancouver, as petitioner and The Corporation of the Township of Langley as respondent, the ruling in favour of The Township of Langley stated, “A regional district’s key planning document is the RGS” and it “defines the appropriate focus of a regional district’s planning, which is on regional and not local matters.” In other words, the regional district’s focus can be on regional matters but that does not justify micro-management of member municipalities’ decisions on individual developments. In effect, this agrees with the premise that the regional district cannot use the RGS to control land use decisions within the municipality. It will be interesting to see if the decisions of the court are appealed to a higher court.
I am not per se against a duly elected municipal government having control over development within their municipal boundaries; however, where a municipality has decided to align its GCB and municipal borders, I’m of the firm opinion that the RGS should require the municipal OCP to contain measures that mitigate adverse effects on the urban-rural interface boundary. Larger municipal lots at the boundary, for example, would reduce any adverse effect on adjoining agricultural or resource lands.
As several of my fellow Electoral Area Directors have concluded, the RGS only applies to the rural areas.