Vancouver International Airport’s aspirations of becoming a global airport hub depend on its flexible ability to expand its facilities, which includes the construction of a fourth runway to support air traffic growth.
But the City of Richmond is sounding the alarm on the plans after the Vancouver Airport Authority applied to Transport Canada to have federal Airport Zoning Regulations (AZR) within the municipality changed to support long-term plans for the additional runway.
The municipal government alleges the Airport Authority made the application without proper consultation with both the City and its residents, especially property owners who are impacted directly. The changes would cause high-rise developments in the City to compete with the air space of air traffic, with the latter taking precedence due to federal jurisdiction.
“The Airport Authority has unilaterally proceeded with its application to Transport Canada without directly consulting the residents and property owners who will be profoundly impacted by these changes,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie in a statement.
“There is no valid reason for pushing these changes through without due proper process, particularly given that the proposed runway is not anticipated to be built for decades.”
YVR currently operates with three runways, including the two main parallel North and South runways:
The proposed fourth runway, dubbed the Close-In South Parallel Runway option, would be located within the southern portion of Sea Island and run parallel to the South Runway.
Airport officials also considered a Foreshore Runway option, which would have a lesser impact on Richmond, but it comes with a higher construction and environmental cost as it necessitates land reclamation in Sturgeon Bank.
However, any new runway is still likely three decades away, when air traffic growth requires it.
In response to the application, Richmond City Council has requested Transport Canada to reject YVR’s proposed changes and ban the airport from being able to use the new runway for takeoffs. The City is instead demanding that the runway be only used for landings.
But the City says the Airport Authority has “unilaterally” rejected its proposed amendments to the application.
“The City has had extensive discussions with Vancouver Airport Authority about the proposed new regulations. The City made its best efforts to reach an agreement with the Airport Authority that protects the needs and interests of the community, and minimizes the negative impacts on development, while also supporting the continued evolution of the airport,” reads a release.
“However, the Airport Authority has rejected the City’s proposed amendments and has advised the City that it is proceeding unilaterally to seek approval from Transport Canada for its plans.”
In addition to making their grievances known to Transport Canada, the City plans to raise its opposition to federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau.
Transport Canada’s AZR determines the building height restrictions for areas in the flight path of an airport runway, and as it is a federal policy it supersedes all municipal government zoning regulations.
If approved, Richmond claims the new regulations will “disrupt well-established land use plans adopted by local and regional authorities” and reduce the permissible building heights in certain areas of the city, which counters planned land use density patterns and building forms permitted under the existing Zoning Bylaw and outlined in the Richmond Official Community Plan.
Additionally, the City says many proposed developments within Richmond City Centre are already well advanced in the design and planning stage based on existing municipal policies. Such changes to the AZR would negatively impact these projects.
This likely includes the proposed major redevelopment of the 50-acre Lansdowne Centre shopping mall site into a mixed-use district with residential towers and commercial uses.
Richmond also says it has potential noise and safety concerns over YVR’s runway plans.
City officials are not budging and say they will continue to process development applications as per existing zoning and community plans.
Over the past 30 years, a swarm of high-rise developments have risen in the northern area of No. 3 Road that is now known as Richmond City Centre.
The pace and size of the developments have greatly accelerated since 2009 when SkyTrain’s Canada Line opened for service, and the largest of the projects envisioned for the City’s downtown core have yet to be made public.
All the while, YVR’s growth has been extraordinary. Last year, the airport recorded 22.3 million passengers – up from 17 million in 2011 and 20.3 million in 2015. Passenger traffic is forecasted to reach 25 million by 2020, 30 million by 2030, and 35 million by 2037.
In January, the Airport Authority announced a $5.6-billion expansion plan over 20 years that includes a major terminal building expansion and a new elevated aircraft taxiway over Grant McConachie Way.