Transit-oriented housing a key priority for Metro Vancouver's new long-term plan

Oct 15 2021, 12:20 am

The regional land use plan that provides Metro Vancouver with a blueprint for its growth is in the process of being revised, and public consultation is now being conducted ahead of its finalization.

Metro Vancouver Regional District’s new Metro 2050 plan will build on and replace the 2011-enacted Metro 2040 plan — the region’s previous plan that provides both the regional district and 23 local governments with the parameters for how they can grow and accommodate changing needs.

It is no coincidence that the regional district’s process coincides with TransLink’s Transport 2050 process of creating a new 30-year regional transportation plan that outlines the next transportation expansion and improvement priorities. Metro 2050 is timed to allow the regional district to consider and integrate Metro Vancouver’s land use strategy with Transport 2050.

To that end, the draft plan for Metro 2050 puts a much greater emphasis on transit-oriented development for the region’s future, as both a measure to help address housing affordability and to keep urban development relatively compact, reducing urban sprawl.

The region’s existing strategy already specifies urban centres — Metro Cores (downtown Vancouver and Surrey City Centre), regional city centres, and municipal town centres — for growth, but changes would add the supplemental designation of frequent transit development corridors.

Such transit corridors would extend about one km in both directions from an arterial roadway served by a frequent transit service, such as SkyTrain and buses. Several transit corridors identified by the regional district include Broadway, 41st Avenue, Hastings Street, Scott Road, King George Boulevard, Scott Road, and Marine Drive (North Shore), as well the length of the SkyTrain lines — not just around stations.

Focusing urban growth around urban centres and transit corridors also has the effect of helping build ridership that supports new and improved public transit services over the long term. In essence, this allows for a more efficient transportation network, and reduces emissions.

metro vancouver urban centres metro 2050

Metro Vancouver’s urban centres, Metro 2050. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

metro vancouver transit corridors metro 2050

Metro Vancouver’s frequent transit corridors for urban growth, Metro 2050. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Under Metro 2050, municipal governments would be encouraged to create policies that allow for more rental housing supply near public transit. The regional district has set an “aspirational regional target” that 15% of new and redeveloped units within Metro Vancouver’s urban centres and transit corridors be affordable rental housing.

As well, the regional district is recommending a regional parking strategy that reduces parking requirements in future buildings to help reduce the overall cost of housing construction.

“High land and construction costs make the delivery of new rental units that are affordable to low and moderate income households challenging, particularly in proximity to transit,” reads the plan.

“Lower income households earning less than 80% of the Regional Median Household Income, who make up the majority of renters in the region, are being forced to look further afield for housing that is affordable and meets their needs.”

Identifying areas served by a higher level of public transit for growth also provides the region with a path forward for accommodating its population growth of about 35,000 new additional residents annually, and the corresponding employment growth.

The regional district anticipates Metro Vancouver’s population will grow from about 2.8 million today to over 3.8 million by 2050.

The Burrard Peninsula sub-region — entailing Vancouver, University Endowment Lands, Burnaby, and New Westminster — is forecast to account for about one third of the region’s entire population growth. Its population will increase from 1.07 million to 1.39 million over the next 30 years, while employment will grow from 1.42 million to 1.88 million over the same period.

Continued strong growth is also expected to occur in the South of Fraser East — consisting of Surrey, Langley City, Langley Township, and White Rock. Over the next 30 years, this sub-region will see its population increase from 783,000 to 1.185 million, and employment from 310,000 to 465,000.

metro vancouver

Metro Vancouver 2050 population growth forecast. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

metro vancouver population growth 2050

Metro Vancouver’s projected population, housing unit, and employment growth, Metro 2050. Click on the image for an expanded version. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Overall, the entire region’s number of homes will grow from 1.075 million to about 1.6 million, and employment will grow from 1.42 million to 1.88 million.

Yet all of this growth needs to fit within the region’s urban containment boundary — the area where urban development can occur.

Obviously landlocked, this region, as of 2016, has a land base of 2,870 sq km, with only 837 sq km allowed for development, including 701 sq km for urban areas and 136 sq km for industrial and mixed-employment areas.

Metro Vancouver is a major urban area in North America, but it is also amongst its smallest geographically. Metro Vancouver’s total developable area is equivalent to the City of Calgary’s entirety of 825 sq km, and is not much bigger than the City of Toronto’s entirety of 630 sq km or the city state of Singapore’s entirety of 729 sq km.

The vast majority of Metro Vancouver’s tiny geographical land base is deemed undevelopable, including 554 sq km for the protected agricultural land reserve (ALR), 1,347 sq km for conservation and recreation areas (North Shore mountains and reservoir watersheds, regional parks, floodplains, and other ecologically sensitive areas), and 114 sq km for rural areas.

metro vancouver land use metro 2050

Metro Vancouver’s land use, Metro 2050. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

metro vancouver urban containment boundary metro 2050

Metro Vancouver’s urban containment boundary, Metro 2050. (Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Along with emphasizing the protection of the ALR for farmland, the plan also states the need to protect and intensify the use of industrial and other employment lands to support long-term economic growth, and provide the region with the better ability to attract investment. Currently, the region is facing an industrial space shortage.

But the plan also notes that mixed-use densities should be allowed for industrial lands immediately adjacent to SkyTrain stations, with a possible combination of residential uses above industrial and commercial uses.

Over the next 30 years, the regional district is targeting to have 98% of growth occur within the urban containment boundary, 40% of housing growth and 50% of employment growth in urban centres, and 27% of housing growth and 28% of employment growth along transit corridors.

An online survey on Metro 2050 is open now through November 26, 2021.

TransLink’s separate online survey on Transport 2050 is also available now, until October 29, 2021. The public transit authority has outlined a blueprint for over 300 km of new additional rapid transit, including SkyTrain and other modes such as light rail transit and bus rapid transit, and key corridors for focus.

Public input will be used to finalize both the Metro 2050 and Transport 2050 plans in early 2022. The final decision for each plan will be respectively made by the regional district’s board comprised of elected municipal officials across the region, and TransLink’s Mayors’ Council.

translink transport 2050 rapid transit

Transport 2050’s rapid transit expansion plan. (TransLink)

The regional district does not have the same kind of spotlight that TransLink has, but it is a vitally important entity that provides a platform for collective thinking for 23 local governments that would otherwise operate and plan independently. It is also responsible for operating and building the region’s water supply and sewerage treatment, and handling solid waste. Most of the region’s park space, classified as regional parks, are operated and maintained by the regional district.

The regional district’s operating budget is expected to grow from $948 million in 2021 to $1.59 billion in 2026.

This does not include the multibillion-dollar capital budget, largely for major water and sewerage projects to replace aging infrastructure and expand capacity to meet the needs of the growing population and economy.

The average household impact for all regional services in 2022 is $595, representing a $21 (3.5%) increase from 2021.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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