Trinity Western University in Langley

Metro Vancouver takes Langley Township to court over growth plan

Region sees risky precedent, aims to quash defiant council's bylaw that zones University District for development

Metro Vancouver is taking the Township of Langley to court to make the municipality comply with the regional growth strategy, saying the local council’s defiance of the plan threatens to set a dangerous precedent.

At issue is the township’s vision for the so-called University District, a large 180-hectare area named after nearby Trinity Western University and earmarked for future institutional expansion by TWU and related development.

Township council last month rezoned the land near Highway 1 and Glover Road, much of which is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), but the legal challenge by Metro aims to quash the bylaw.

Metro argues the municipality must abide by the new regional growth strategy.

It requires the land use change go to a vote of the regional board because it calls for more intensive development of homes outside the regional plan’s urban containment boundary, contrary to Metro’s goal of concentrating growth in town centres and limiting sprawl in more rural and agricultural areas.

The township contends a two-year transition period means it is operating under the old regional plan – not the new one adopted two years ago – and can legally make the land-use change now.

“We feel it should be the municipality that deals with land-use issues,” Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese said. “We are very confident with the case law our lawyers have reviewed that we are doing the right thing.”

Metro directors say a Langley victory in the dispute could leave other areas of farmland or green space more vulnerable to development.

“What we’re concerned about is the precedent that’s set if, in fact, Langley is permitted to go ahead with a redevelopment scheme that in essence changes the regional growth strategy boundaries that have been set in place by all the municipalities,” said Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, chair of Metro’s regional planning committee.

Corrigan said Metro agreed to a special study area in Langley Township where more intensive development could be contemplated near TWU, in a corridor that “might be defensible” for further urban development.

But he said the local council has broadened the planned University District to include more land that Metro did not consent to consider.

Corrigan said Langley Township, if it fails in court, could still put the proposed change to a vote of the Metro board. A simple majority vote would approve the study area lands, while a higher two-thirds threshold would be needed to okay inclusion of  the lands outside the study area.

“They’re sacrificing their small properties,” Richmond Coun. Harold Steves said of Langley Township, adding other cities across the region have agreed not to subdivide rural lots for dense urban-style development.

“It’s time Langley held the line too,” Steves said. “If we in Richmond did what they’re doing in Langley, we’d have about 2,000 acres of farmland threatened.”

Froese maintained concerns about a precedent are a “red herring,” adding the Agricultural Land Commission still has final say on development of land in the ALR.

“I see it as a basic fundamental right of a locally elected government, which is really in tune with what’s right for their municipality.”

He said the University District is near the freeway and existing urban development and includes farmland that’s “not that good.”

Metro’s position is that the ALC’s determination of whether land can come out of the ALR is a separate matter from the regional board’s decisions on appropriate land use, including the regional aim of containing most growth in defined urban areas.

Langley Township wanted a mediated settlement, Froese added, but was rebuffed by Metro.

All Metro municipalities have until July 29 to file new regional context statements, which define how local plans comply with the regional growth strategy.

Most of the context statements aren’t controversial and reflect existing Official Community Plans.

One notable change is in Port Moody, where council had previously frozen new development in response to delays in approving the Evergreen Line.

Now that the new SkyTrain line is being built, Port Moody is revising its context statement to unfreeze development to allow growth as originally planned.

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