Thursday, October 22, 2009

Metro overseeing the District of Maple Ridge - probably just as well

District needs OK before land changes

Comments Maple Ridge’s plans to allow easier expansion of its urban boundary has hit a barrier raised by the regional government.

Johnny Carline, CEO for Metro Vancouver, told council Monday that designating land as urban that’s outside the urban boundary would be considered a “minor amendment” to Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy.

That would require a public hearing and the approval of two-thirds of the Metro Vancouver board, under a new policy devised in recent weeks.

Carline said Metro Vancouver has modified its long-term plan, which tries to control sprawl, by creating three types of amendments to the strategy: major and minor amendments and changes to regional context statements, which cities write into their own plans.

A major amendment such adoption of the plan as a whole requires a unanimous vote.

A minor amendment, such as changing land use or removing land from agricultural, conservation or recreation zones, would require a two-thirds vote and a public hearing.

Whether those new rules apply to the four properties Maple Ridge wants to change to urban remains to be seen.

“The other thing is, we don’t know what their comments will be on the five or six areas,” Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin said Monday.

The district sent in those requests to change those areas to urban earlier this year as part of it’s response to Metro’s draft version of its new long-term plan.

A regional designation of urban doesn’t mean development will take place, but allows the District of Maple Ridge to approve rezoning and changing the urban boundary at a later date, without the approval of Metro Vancouver.

One of those areas, Albion flats at Lougheed Highway and 105th Avenue, could see an easier way to urbanization.

That area could be considered a “special study area.” That’s another description recently devised by Metro Vancouver for areas that are next to the urban boundary and which would require only a majority vote to remove from an agricultural or conservation zone. Decisions on such areas, however, would be made after the new regional plan is in place.

The Regional Growth Study replaces the Livable Region Strategic Plan, which included the Green Zone. The new plan instead created other zones: agricultural, recreation/conservation and rural.

Coun. Judy Dueck was encouraged to hear about the special areas, saying they could offer a solution for Maple Ridge.

She asked for a formal response to Maple Ridge’s request of land designation changes.

Carline said Metro Vancouver wants the new Regional Growth Strategy finalized by the new year, with public hearings in January and February.

“We have tried to respond responsibly to Maple Ridge’s feedback … and have made significant changes,” Carline said in his presentation to council.

Carline, however, said decisions by the Agricultural Land Commission will continue to be used to define what is and isn’t farmland.

Metro Vancouver staff also said it could accept the existence of Maple Ridge’s industrial area at the north end of 256th Street, provided the land remains industrial.

But changing use of that land to allow houses and townhouses would be considered a change to the long term plan and require Metro Vancouver board approval.

Coun. Al Hogarth said creating such industry-only zones was 1950s-style planning and didn’t allow for a mix of other uses, such as commercial, residential and educational.

But Carline said industrial zones have to be protected and exclusively used for that. Otherwise, land will be developed for higher-value commercial or residential purposes, driving out industry which can’t compete with the land values.

“As soon as you open that up to the market, it just clears out the industry, really fast.”

That happened in False Creek in Vancouver, he pointed out.

“That’s the market reality we have to deal with.”

Tree permit needed on Thornhill

Thornhill residents have to check with the district and get a permit before they fire up their chain saws.

The district’s Tree Protection Bylaw applies to all residents in the Thornhill urban reserve, just as it does to everyone else in Maple Ridge’s urban area.

According to the bylaw, if your land is subdividable, or you’re on a parcel larger than an acre, in a development permit area or on a steep slope – you need a permit if you’re cutting down more than three trees per acre per year.

The bylaw however only applies to trees larger than 10 centimetres in diameter measured at 150 cm above the soil. Trees can also be removed during emergencies without a permit.

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