Last chance

Erica Butler says the regional plan is close.

After four years of work and consultation, SuperCitizens have about six weeks left to submit final comments on the regional plan.

“We’re asking for any input up until January 31,” says Peter Duncan, the regional plan team’s manager of environmental assets. The six weeks is an extra review period added at the request of the Urban Development Institute, an association of land developers. But other groups such as the Ecology Action Centre had also expressed interest in providing further input, says Duncan. “We anticipate a lot of meetings with land developers, but not only land developers — also other individuals and stakeholder groups.”

This is the second draft of the regional plan, and it already bears the mark of the editor’s pen. Staff made a long list of changes stemming from the summer’s public consultations, involving everything from additional regional parks to reduced coastal elevation setbacks to changes in subdivision development rules. The original draft placed severe limits on conventional subdivision developments.

The idea was to encourage developers to experiment in cluster subdivisions, where houses (and hence roads, water and sewer services) are clustered together, village style, and the bulk of the land is left unadulterated and held in common. The original plan encouraged cluster design by limiting the number of traditional-style lots allowed on existing roads (only four) and on new roads (only one). In response to this summer’s public input, the plan now takes a much softer line, completely removing the limit on existing roads and increasing the limit on new roads from one to eight lots. And it seems the idea of land “held in common” was a bit too radical for some SuperCitizens, so the new draft includes a revised cluster design where protected natural spaces could be divided up and privately owned.

The transportation section of the plan didn’t see major changes, except a hint of a difference in its mention of commuter rail. Both the original and the new draft plan pretty much rule out rail transit, citing the SuperCity’s rather small population. Instead the plan opts for investment in more rapid bus services like MetroLink, and more water-based services, like the new high-speed ferry planned for Bedford. The revised plan does, however, admit the tiniest possible potential for rail “in the more distant future.” At the very least it suggests we keep an eye on existing rail corridors, just in case.

The next step is a public hearing on the plan, which will happen sometime in March. Unlike the public consultations we’ve had to date, there’s not much time for discussion in a public hearing. By rights, every SuperCitizen gets five minutes to say what they like or don’t like about the plan. Councillors can ask questions, but the discussion doesn’t begin for them until the hearing is over. Although councillors have been known to make minor amendments based on what they hear, substantial changes are unlikely. By the time it’s reached this stage, it’s basically a take it or leave it proposition.

Because of the region-wide scope and relevance of the plan, this public hearing will likely move out of city hall. Council chambers just aren’t big enough. With councillors, staff and press packed in the room, the fire code capacity allows for about 70 interested SuperCitizens. It can be a tight squeeze on an average Tuesday night, much less when something controversial comes up. When and where the public hearing will happen is to be decided by councillors on February 21, when staff makes their final recommendations on the plan.

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