RGS FAQs – March 30, 2011

Q. What is the current status of the regional growth strategy?
A. The regional growth strategy bylaw was adopted by the Comox Valley Regional District board at its meeting on March 29, 2011

Q. What will the regional growth strategy do?
A. The regional growth strategy will provide direction for the overall pattern of land use in the Valley and the creation of a sustainable human settlement pattern. As such, its focus will be on defining where future growth will occur and the appropriate type, intensity and form of that growth. It will also set the pattern for protection of special environmental features, agricultural and resource lands. A further objective of the strategy is to maintain the high quality of life currently experienced by Comox Valley residents through maintaining both the rural character of the majority of the lands while at the same time promoting suitable and sustainable economic activities.

Q. Why did the CVRD undertake a regional growth strategy?
A. There is substantial growth and development pressure in the Comox Valley. It is recognized that a regional growth strategy is the most appropriate tool to ensure that growth is managed in the best way for those who live here now – and for those who will live here in the future. When the province created the CVRD in early 2008 it also directed the preparation of a regional growth strategy as the most significant tool available to regional districts to manage land use activities within their jurisdictions.

Q. What is a regional growth strategy?
A. The regional growth strategy (RGS) is a vision of the region, adopted by the regional board, to establish the economic, social and environmental objectives that promote healthy and sustainable communities. A regional growth strategy is a local government strategic plan to promote human settlement that is social, economic and environmentally healthy and that makes efficient use of public facilities, land and other resources. An RGS gives long range planning direction for regional district and municipal official community plans (OCPs) and provides a basis for decisions regarding implementation of provincial programs in the area. There are currently ten regional districts within the three higher growth areas of the province with completed regional growth strategies

Q. Is the RGS a static or dynamic document? That is, is it “etched in stone” or will it change over time, and if so, what will spur any change to it?
A. Provisions are in the RGS to establish an on-going monitoring and evaluation framework to annually review how well the bylaw is meeting the needs of the Comox Valley. While it is adopted as a bylaw, and as such has the full effect of law for those involved, it will be subject to both on-going monitoring and amendment as the regional district board sees fit. An amending process will be incorporated into the bylaw, enabling citizens, governments, landowners and other interested parties to propose amendments they see as being required. Of course, as with the original bylaw, any amendment must go through a similar consultation process and also secure regional district board and other affected local governments' support.

Q. With all the Comox Valley local governments having signed the RGS, what does that commit them to in terms of decisions on growth and development within their own boundaries?
A. For the regional district board, all future decisions must be in compliance with the RGS bylaw once adopted. The three municipal governments have a two year period within which they must prepare and adopt a regional context statement within their own official community plans. These statements must be acceptable to the regional district board prior to their adoption, and are intended to show how the local government will bring its policies and plans into consistency over time. One of the underlying goals of the entire RGS process has been to respect the rights and abilities of the local governments to make their own decisions within their own jurisdictions through their official community plans. For that reason much of the direction within the RGS takes the form of advisory targets for local governments to work towards. During the preparation of the actual RGS itself, much time was spent on analyzing the existing plans of the local governments to seek ways to work together.

Q. If a local government makes a development decision that is contrary to the RGS, what are the consequences?
A. Once an RGS is adopted the parties to this bylaw are bound by the direction and policies contained within the RGS. If a local government (either a municipality or the CVRD) attempts to make a change to land use policies that is contrary to the RGS they would be in contravention of provincial law. In order to enact such a change an amendment to the RGS would be required in accordance with the amendment policies in the RGS or part 25 of the Local Government Act as applicable.

Q. What does the regional growth strategy not do?
A. A regional growth strategy cannot regulate land use within member municipalities. The intent of the RGS is to provide for a common vision for the entire region, in terms of growth management, housing, the environment, and transportation. The RGS allows municipalities to have flexibility in the implementation of the objectives of the plan, and only specifies the content to be included in local bylaws.

Q. How did Sage Hills get on the map?
A. The proponent offered a significant set of regional benefits, focusing on the education and recreational components. The development proposes economic activity that was not supported by any other form of development being proposed in the rural areas. Jobs, public access to recreational facilities, highest green development standards, support for transit and contributions towards regional infrastructure requirements off site were some of the unique benefits offered from this project. Elected officials felt the regional benefits arising from the opportunity were such that they directed its conditional inclusion in the strategy. The conditions for the developer are extensive and must be committed through contractual arrangements, prior to final designation and approvals.

Q. What is a "municipal expansion area"?
A. Areas designated as "municipal expansion area" around Courtenay and Comox have been identified as areas of municipal interest for many years. It is felt they are required to support urban forms of development in the medium to long term. There is a need to identify and protect them now to ensure current development patterns do not result in fractured lots that are impossible to support rational and planned servicing in the future.

Q. Was there public consultation in the creating of the RGS?
A. Yes, there was extensive public consultation over many months in 2009 and 2010. Feedback was sought, particularly around the size and scope of the settlement expansion areas (SEAs) outside municipal boundaries. Following first and second readings of the bylaw, a public hearing was also scheduled to give everyone one more opportunity to submit comments to the regional district board.

All of the input was reviewed and assessed by the planning team , the consultants and the four local governments involved in creating the RGS. It was used to inform the elected officials as they provided political direction towards crafting the bylaw itself.

Q. What if a stakeholder group disagreed with the RGS statements and direction?
A. As can be expected with any public process, not all of the input received was consistent or mutually supportive. A key challenge for the elected officials was to seek reasonable compromises which they believed best met the overall interests of the valley and its communities, while maintaining the higher level principles associated with protecting environmental, social, economic and sustainable values and activities. Everyone who was affected by the RGS was encouraged to continue to discuss the issues and their interests with the elected officials and the planning teams through the public meetings. At the end of the process however it was the regional district board, and the councils of the three other local governments and our neighbouring regional districts, that must accept the outcome as they are the decision-making bodies for these bylaws.

Q. How long did it take to complete the RGS?
A. The ministry set December 31, 2010 as the deadline to have the strategy developed and adopted. One extension was granted and the CVRD board adopted the RGS bylaw on March 29, 2011. With the regional growth strategy bylaw in place, all subsequent CVRD bylaws have to be consistent with it. Municipalities have up to two years to develop a regional context statement that becomes part of their official community plan (OCP). That context statement explains the linkage between the municipality's local plan and the RGS.

Historical/Background FAQs on the RGS
Q. Didn't the former CSRD and the Comox Valley municipal politicians try this before?
A. The CSRD and the municipalities of Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland recognized the benefit of a regional growth strategy and met several times to develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) as a high-level framework to go forward. The directors from the Comox Valley electoral areas A, B and C and the representatives from the three Comox Valley municipalities signed that MOU in October 2006.

Q. What happened after that?
A. Discussions continued among the political bodies and attention was turned to the subject of having sustainability contained within the planning process. In July of 2007, the Ministry of Community Services announced that the Comox Strathcona Regional District (CSRD) would be restructured into the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) and the Strathcona Regional District (SRD). As part of the restructure, the ministry mandated that the CVRD undertake a regional growth strategy for the Comox Valley. And on July 28, 2008 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was entered into by the CVRD, Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland.

Q. Who led the process of the RGS?
A. The RGS was managed by the Comox Valley Regional District, in close cooperation with the Village of Cumberland, Town of Comox and City of Courtenay. The final RGS will be adopted by the CVRD board and the official community plans of the member municipalities will need to contain regional context statements consistent with the RGS. A highly cooperative process was established to oversee the RGS.

Rob Roycroft was hired as the project manager and a consultant team consisting of Urban Strategies, EcoPlan and Ear to the Ground Planning were hired by the CVRD to lead the public consultation component and prepare the RGS.