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Speaking out on growth plan

A complex and controversial blueprint for future growth in the Lower Mainland that has even some of the most seasoned planners and politicians baffled went out for public comment in Coquitlam this week.

A complex and controversial blueprint for future growth in the Lower Mainland that has even some of the most seasoned planners and politicians baffled went out for public comment in Coquitlam this week.

But many residents left Wednesday night's meeting just as - if not, more - confused than they were when they had walked into the council chambers 90 minutes earlier.

Nearly all 12 people who spoke about Metro Vancouver's draft Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) voiced their concerns with the document that will shape the region over the next 30 years and will replace the outdated Liveable Region Strategic Plan.

Their fears focused on the potential loss of protection for green space, such as riparian zones, parks and golf courses.

The biggest group of residents represented at the public input session came from Westwood Plateau, who expressed frustration about the RGS' designation of the two Westwood Plateau Golf and Country Club properties - the golf club and golf academy - as "general urban."

A designation of "conservation/recreation" would be preferable and would provide a third layer of protection, they argued, should the golf club owners one day ask to have the restrictive covenant lifted and the land use designation changed by the city.

Many Plateau residents have been urging Coquitlam city council to make the change for more than a year.

"We ask that you give residents the peace of mind to rest easy by giving as much protection as possible to these lands," said Tom Cox, spokesperson for the Westwood Plateau Community Association, who also spoke about other threatened green spaces in the city.

Many Coquitlam areas have the conservation/recreation label, including Mundy Park, but other smaller parcels and golf courses don't and are classified in the broad-brush "general urban" category (to view the draft RGS map, visit

Other residents also spoke about how trees are being cut down to make way for massive developments.

Under the RGS, Coquitlam's population would double in 30 years to 240,000 residents, putting a high price on empty land and parks and pressure on budget-stressed councils looking to densify and broaden the tax base, warned Maggie Moss of Coquitlam Council Watch.

Plateau resident Oscar Sanchez said language in the draft RGS is vague and it contains inconsistencies, loopholes and exclusions.

"Perhaps the most glaring issue in the Regional Growth Strategy plan regards separation of power between Metro Vancouver and member municipalities," Sanchez said. "It is not clear as to who maintains control over the changing of land use designations. It is unclear as to whether the GVRD and its Regional Growth Strategy plan acts as a body of approval or as an executive one."

Jim McIntyre, Coquitlam's planning GM, who was the chair of the Metro Vancouver RGS technical advisory committee, attempted to give clarity. The RGS' "general urban" designation, he said, is a "catch-all" and the Westwood Plateau golf club lands will remain in the city's OCP as a recreational use.

Coun. Mae Reid, chair of the city's land use committee, said council will make its decision on whether to support the RGS at its next regular meeting on March 21.

City councils have until March 22 to submit their comments to Metro Vancouver (Port Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra have endorsed the draft RGS while Port Moody is opposing it).

A final ratification vote by the regional board - which includes Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart and Coun. Lou Sekora - is set for April 29. If it's passed, Metro Vancouver municipalities would have two years to pass regional context statements showing how their OCPs align with the RGS.

Five questions for Coquitlam planning GM Jim McIntyre:

Tri-City News: Why were the golf club lands designated as "general urban" and not "conservation/recreation?"

Jim McIntyre: As the draft plan was coming along, council had a growing apprehension about the level of control [by Metro Vancouver]. We wanted to make it simple and keep the control more in the hands of Coquitlam, so the way to do that is to keep everything in the "general urban." That gives us the most flexibility.

TCN: Is the designation for the golf club lands the biggest concern about the draft RGS?

JM: That's just the tip of the iceberg. There's the balance between regional authority control and local government autonomy.

TCN: If the RGS passes, what would be the application process for developers of land deemed "regionally significant," i.e., more than 25 acres?

JM: They would apply for an OCP amendment and rezoning. If that proposal is inconsistent with our regional context statement, we need to refer it to Metro Vancouver to change the statement and the RGS.

TCN: Are there questions from Coquitlam that Metro Vancouver hasn't answered?

JM: There was a letter from [Metro Van] CAO Johnny Carline in mid-October where he tried to address some of the things that we have asked before. I think the jury is still out whether council feels those were sufficient responses.

TCN: What will be your recommendation to city council on March 21?

JM: We're wrestling with that.

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