2014-08-09-Densification divergence in Port Moody, Coquitlam

Densification divergence in Port Moody, Coquitlam
By Kendra Wong, Special to The Sun August 8, 2014

This story is part of a joint Vancouver Sun-Langara College project looking at the urban future of the rapidly growing Metro Vancouver region.

The cities of Port Moody and Coquitlam are set to fundamentally change their identities from suburban neighbourhoods to urban communities over the next two decades.

But that transformation operation is being met with very different responses. While many in Coquitlam seem to embrace the shift, some Port Moody residents are pushing back against the city’s development plans.

“Residents are being told that we must have major densification to support (the Evergreen Line),” said Hazel Mason, a longtime Port Moody resident and president of the Moody Centre Community Association, which is fighting the city’s official community plan. “We’ve got seniors that are moving out and we’ve got people who want to live in Port Moody that are forming their Plan B — it’s sad.”

The city is pursuing more transit-oriented development to account for the 10.9-kilometre Evergreen Line, expected to be in service by summer 2016. In the next 30 years, Port Moody’s population is projected to rise from 34,500 to 50,000.

Port Moody plans to densify around designated SkyTrain stations such as Moody Centre, the heritage commercial district (where Mason lives) and Coronation Park. Concerns include lack of park space, traffic congestion, overcrowding and stress on the city’s infrastructure.

But not all Port Moody residents oppose densification.

A group of homeowners in Coronation Park, which sits between Suter Brook and Newport Village, submitted a petition in favour of densification in the neighbourhood.

“I could live here forever,” said Rose McFarlane, who initiated the petition last November. “It’s not that I have a big desire to see development happen. But I think it would make sense if they’re going to develop … this is the area to do it.”

That minority group of cautious approvers in Port Moody is a majority in nearby Coquitlam, where many embrace the incoming rapid transit line in a city whose population is expected to grow from 131,500 to 224,000.

Paul Heath and his fiancée, who live on Glen Drive near the incoming Lincoln Evergreen station, believe densification brings a unique feel to the suburbs.

“We love the densification of the area and how it’s got a downtown feel to it, but you still know you’re in the suburbs,” said Heath, adding that densification means a greater variety of businesses, restaurants and stores.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said residents understand that densification is necessary to support the rapid transit line that has been years in the making.

“We’ve always fought for it,” he said. “I think, in reality, a majority of people in Port Moody embrace it. They embrace the same kind of livable community that we want in Coquitlam. I recognize that some want it to be a small town and do not accept any of the new population, but I don’t think that’s a sustainable position.”


Urban future: Metro Vancouver grows up
Desire for densification clashes with land-use challenges in a region defined by geography
By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun August 9, 2014

If Metro Vancouver were to have an official bird, it should be the crane.

Travel along the SkyTrain network or busy bus routes in the region and construction cranes are everywhere, hanging around half-built skyscrapers in fast-rising urban hubs like Burnaby’s Brentwood Mall, Coquitlam Town Centre, Surrey City Centre and Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver is growing up, and the skyscrapers are no longer confined to Vancouver’s downtown core. They are sprouting across the region, which expects to welcome another million more people and jobs by 2041, bringing the total population to 3.4 million.

Of those, about one in three — or 332,000 people — will call Surrey and White Rock home, bringing that area’s population to 767,000. That’s higher than the projection for Vancouver in 2041 — 740,000 — while Coquitlam’s population will nearly double to 224,000, according to Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy.

Under the strategy, approved by the region’s 21 municipalities in 2011, Metro anticipates another 600,000 jobs and 550,000 new homes.

In a bid to prevent sprawl on industrial and agricultural land, regional officials hope to keep most of that new population and employment growth in designated “urban containment boundaries,” with 55 per cent of residents living within walking distance of a stop on the transit network.

But while the strategy may look good on paper, upholding its principles is proving to be a challenge. Scores of residents across Metro Vancouver, many living in large, single-family, treed-lot neighbourhoods, are balking at plans to build up around them.

Vancouver has faced backlash from residents in Grandview-Woodland, the Downtown Eastside and South Vancouver’s Marpole. In Langley Township, Brookswood residents have posted signs around the neighbourhood complaining of the township’s plans for increased development. Opposition has also surfaced across Delta and along the Millennium Line in Burnaby, which wants to create mini-Metrotown replicas at Lougheed and Brentwood Town Centres.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” concedes Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, chairman of Metro’s regional planning and agriculture committee. “Nobody wants to see growth in their neighbourhoods. As a born-and-bred Vancouver boy, I would like to be able to put my finger in the dike, too, and hold back the sands of time. But the influx of people to this area is something we can’t control.

“Where are we going to put them all?”

To carry out the plan, local municipalities have been tasked with drawing up their own “regional context statements” that aim to marry local aspirations for growth with the regional vision.

The context statements, based on each municipality’s Official Community Plan, are intended to guide long-term growth. But some communities, particularly smaller ones who don’t have much weight on the Metro board, worry their local autonomy is being stripped away.

“There are some directors on Metro who have misinterpreted their role,” said Langley Township Coun. Bob Long. “Metro is supposed to assist regional municipalities but it’s now becoming ‘we’re telling you what’s wrong and right in your communities.’ ”

Under the regional growth strategy, municipalities are required to develop regional context statements that show how they plan to meet the goals and outcomes of the strategy, thus making it legally binding. If they wish to make changes to those statements, they must go to the Metro Vancouver board for a two-thirds majority vote.

The board is weighted based on population size, which means cities like Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey have significant clout.

This doesn’t bode well for Langley Township, which is the only municipality so far that hasn’t received approval on its regional context statement. It has also seen four proposed amendments rejected by the board for fear they could set a precedent, particularly development on agricultural land.

At the same time, Metro Vancouver has approved a massive residential development on Tsawwassen farmland, as well as give Surrey the nod to redesignate industrial land to allow the expansion of a South Asian shopping district in Newton.

Regional planner Heather McNell said while Langley Township’s regional context statement was really “very good,” some of its clauses were problematic, including its plans to create a university district on farmland near Trinity Western University.

Nor did Langley Township seek Metro’s approval before moving ahead with the plan, prompting a court fight. The court eventually ruled in favour of Langley Township, ruling Metro had no right to dictate land use for local municipalities.

“When we signed on to the plan, it was with a clear understanding that the university district was part of the plan,” Long said. “It was not an amendment to the plan at all. With the weighted voting and the attitude Metro has displayed, it’s very difficult for us to get anything through.”

Metro is appealing the Langley Township decision. Corrigan maintains the Langley Township council knew it wasn’t following the rules, or it would have come to Metro and presented its case similar to what was done with Delta and Surrey.

“They were worried they were colouring so outside the lines that they didn’t think they could convince us,” Corrigan said.

“I’m not surprised. Langley is on the eastern edge of the metropolitan area. There are significant issues: people drive cars, there’s lots of agricultural land, they have to develop a tax base … it’s a whole set of different issues from urban communities.”

But Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said he is not surprised to see Metro in this conundrum. His council had initially balked at signing the regional growth strategy, with one of the main sticking points being that Metro was not willing to divulge how it planned to deal with such disputes. Coquitlam ultimately signed on to the regional growth plan, after an “acrimonious mediation,” Stewart said, because it was required under provincial legislation.

Since then, the regional district has not only had to fight a case in court, but also had to grapple with other challenges involving Delta’s Southlands application. Before a vote on the issue last month, directors called for legal advice, delaying proceedings for 45 minutes.

“This is a field of local government fraught with potential challenges because there’s a lot of landowners as well as municipalities involved. We have residents who consider themselves stakeholders in the unfolding of their neighbourhoods, and rightly so,” Stewart said. “They want to understand the implications.”

Stewart said while his council was slow in signing on to the plan, he staunchly believes in regional planning. Without it, he noted, there could be fractured communities governed by parochial interests and bad, unlivable communities.

“I do think the decision that was made (by the courts) seems to not take into account the regional interest of having a sustainable region,” he said of the Langley Township case.

“If Coquitlam gets to do exactly as Coquitlam wants within our boundaries, there’s no reason for a regional strategy. In fact there’s a whole lot at risk.

“I want Coquitlam aspirations to be tempered by the regional plan, but within reason.”

Corrigan insists Metro doesn’t want to poke its nose into local affairs, noting “you can’t thwart local government autonomy, they have the ability to make decisions to the best advantage of the community. What’s good for West Vancouver isn’t necessarily good for Langley, or what’s best for Vancouver isn’t going to work for Port Moody.

“There’s always a creative tension in local government because we’re not a mega-city, you really are dealing with a situation where it’s a constantly evolving process,” he said.

“We’re more defined by the situations where we allowed change than defined by the changes we’re making and being able to grow things in a positive way. Right now it is about any application to take land out. It’s never about how well our town centres are being developed … there’s a reason for doing this because it works.”

Corrigan acknowledges that while the regional district has legal authority, the plan “does not have the kind of teeth you would find in provincial legislation.” But municipalities signed onto the plan, be said, because they knew it was in their interest to do so.

“It’s a little bit like a marriage,” he said. “You work together to make it work or you break apart.”

But Long said Metro should do more to appease Langley Township, noting his municipality does have a lot of anomalies, including a patchwork of agricultural, residential and industrial lands and it’s a challenge to develop livability in some of the rural communities.

“We don’t have a secret blacklist of development we want to pop all over the place,” he said. “I really value the regional cooperation because there’s so much value in it,” he said. “When it comes to the things Metro does well … we love it. Parks, sewers … with the planning thing, we just have to learn to get along.”


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