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City of White Rock resists signing off on Metro Vancouver strategy

South Campbell Heights decision cited among reasons for mistrust
White Rock City Hall (Peace Arch News photo)

White Rock council members have signalled their discontent with the Metro Vancouver regional district by balking at acceptance of Metro’s 2050 Regional Growth Strategy.

And recent indications that Metro Vancouver representatives are willing to meet with council at the soonest opportunity suggest the message has been received, Mayor Darryl Walker said.

At Council’s June 13 meeting, Coun. Anthony Manning referenced Metro Vancouver’s vote earlier this year in favour of the controversial South Campbell Heights industrial development plan – among other factors – in expressing his doubt that the regional body is prepared to listen to the community’s needs.

And his comments led to similar expressions by most members of council, who ultimately voted for a staff review and report on the ramifications of not accepting the strategy.

This week, Walker told Peace Arch News that staff “acted very quickly on it” reaching out to Metro Vancouver managers to indicate council’s reservations in signing off on the strategy.

“I think they got the message loud and clear,” he said. “They expressed a willingness to come out and meet with council in a public meeting, and we’re going to try to arrange that.”

An unresolved dispute with a Metro Vancouver member community could delay third reading and final adoption of the stategy by the Metro Vancouver board, staff have pointed out.

Both Surrey council and the Township of Langley also have issues with the Metro Vancouver strategy, Walker noted, although in those cases the issues are about resisting potential Metro Vancouver interference in local projects.

The original staff recommendation, presented by director of planning and development services Anne Berry, at the June 13 meeting, had been to receive the strategy for information, accept it, and forward the resolution of acceptance to Metro Vancouver.

But that did not sit well with Manning.

“I’m going to have a difficult time accepting and recommending this,” he said. “There are a number of issues in this Regional Growth Strategy that I think overlook the needs of our community.

“I have the sense that when it comes to the Metro Vancouver growth plan it’s the bigger communities that get their way, and the small communities be damned,” Manning said.

He cited a policy in the strategy to “ensure that sea-level rise, flood risk and other natural hazards have been considered.”

“We saw Metro Vancouver approve the (South) Campbell project,” he said, noting that while Walker, and others on the Metro board, voted against it, it was still approved.

“What’s the impact on our aquifer, what’s the impact on the Semiahmoo First Nation?” he asked. (the South Campbell Heights plan, pushed for by Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and the Safe Surrey Coalition majority on Surrey council, was opposed by many who pointed out the potential environmental and social damage of establishing industry in a sensitive wildlife area.)

“Most importantly, for me, I would like to see more collaboration between the City of Surrey and the City of White Rock with the Semiahmoo Town Centre project,” he said.

“Even if this city does not approve a single unit from now for the next 10 to 15 years, we’re going to have a crush of people just on the north side of North Bluff and they’re going to be using our streets, drinking our water in our restaurants and that’s going to be a cost that we take on and we’re not getting any benefit from.”

“I’d like to see greater collaboration between municipalities when there are projects that impact others in the area, and I don’t see that here.”

Berry agreed that there is limited opportunity for consultation for municipalities within the current Metro Vancouver structure and process.

Walker said Manning’s comments were “absolutely defensible.”

“There is very little in the growth strategy that looks outside of the growth strategy,” he commented. “I think that’s unfortunate, but it’s also the way, I guess, if I may, a monolith named Metro Vancouver operates.”

Walker said that growth continues unabated and that “Campbell Heights is a prime example, but it’s a prime example that doesn’t do a lot for anybody, except for industry – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but where are all the other pieces that are involved in it?”

Berry said that council was not obliged to accept the strategy.

“There is a process, should council not choose to accept. Council will need to provide a rationale for the non-acceptance, and that will be forwarded back to Metro Vancouver. If there is a dispute with respect to the Regional Growth Strategy and a resolution cannot be achieved with the local government, then you would have to go through a dispute resolution process, and/or full arbitration, depending on the outcome.”

Berry said that, technically, if there is a dispute, Metro Vancouver could not adopt the Growth Strategy bylaw until the dispute is resolved.

Coun. David Chesney also agreed with Manning, noting that with the current system of weighted votes, anything that the City of Surrey and the City of Vancouver agrees on is “a done deal.”

“The tail will never wag the dog but it doesn’t mean that we have to say, ‘gee that felt good,’” he said.

“I want to thank Coun. Manning for his comments,” said Coun. Erika Johanson. “It took a lot of courage and I support them.”

Manning’s motion, that staff review concerns and bring forward a report on non-acceptance – noting objections to policies in the Growth Strategy dealing with mitigating environmental risks, collaboration with member jurisdictions, other governments and First Nations, and housing needs – was passed unanimously.

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