Battle lines becoming clearer in debate over Regional Growth Strategy as developers focus on affordability crisis

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy, now stalled because of a single municipality’s refusal to sign on, would force intolerable housing prices even higher, according to Maureen Enser, executive director of the Urban Development Institute.

In a lengthy op-ed piece in today’s Sun, Enser uses the crisis in affordability to buttress a position which is really about who decides the direction of regional growth. Is it individual municipalities or should Metro itself have an oversight role?

The UDI, the voice of the province’s major developers, has been conducting a quiet campaign against the RGS which has grown much louder since Coquitlam denied Metro the unanimous support required to make the strategy law.

It’s fair to say the UDI has a number of members who believe industrial land, even agricultural land, should be converted to residential, a shift the RGS virtually rules out. Would that mean more affordable housing? In the absence of other measures, I don’t think so.

If Metro gets the role proposed in the RGS, certain decisions on land use would be forced to go through a new level of approval at the regional level. As Enser makes clear, that would expose projects to longer, more contentious processes where interest groups from outside the neighbourhood, or even the municipality, would get a chance to chime in.

But is that wrong? Fraser Valley communities, to give one current example, are working hard to stop the region from locating a waste incinerator in their smog-vulnerable neighbourhood. To give another example, densification in Vancouver may be virtuous from an environmental perspective, but serves little long-term purpose if other parts of the region allow sprawl. The RGS would only allow regional oversight where changes are proposed outside the parameters of the plan.

As we know from a piece elsewhere in the Sun, housing prices have gone off the chart without the RGS in place. The solutions, as condo sales genius Bob Rennie told the UDI’s annual meeting yesterday, lie in innovative strategies that all three levels of government must help build. There is nothing in the RGS to preclude a major push on affordability.

Enser’s arguments cannot be dismissed, although I disagree with some of her conclusions.

Jeff Lee has compiled a brief, useful review of how the issue is unfolding in this blog entry. What jumps out at me is the absence of a champion for the RGS, either in politics or among the non-governmental organizations interested in sustainable growth.

Any takers?