Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Courts grant Township of Langley the right to sprawl on former farmland

Trinity Western University (TWU) is certainly no stranger to controversy. Running afoul of regional land-use planning is one of the many controversies surrounding the university.

University District. Click image to enlarge.

The Township of Langley, working with TWU, proposed to remove 152 hectares of land from its agricultural zone to allow urban development around TWU. This was even after the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) only approved the removal of 23.4 acres for TWU expansion. Even with the Township’s zoning change, the vast majority of land still cannot be developed as it is still in the agricultural land reserve.

Agricultural Land Commission map outlining which parts of the University District they support. Click image to enlarge.

Beyond the “University District”, the Township of Langley and the ALC approved the development of 67 single-family houses that was first billed as an “equestrian community” and later “student housing” for TWU.

At the same time, Metro Vancouver was updating its regional growth strategy. The original Livable Regional Strategic Plan, which laid out the vision to preserve farmland and greenspace while building compact people-first urban areas, had little to no enforcement mechanisms. Metro Vancouver’s new regional growth strategy is prescriptive and contains enforcement mechanisms.

The mechanism that binds the Township’s land-use plans with the regional growth strategy is called regional context statements. These statement are part of a municipality’s Official Community Plan. The Township of Langley held off adopting the new regional growth strategy until it could pass the “University District”. Passing the “University District” under the new regional growth strategy would have been more difficult.

In an unprecedented move, Metro Vancouver sued the Township of Langley in an attempt to block the “University District” and its ”student housing.” This was not a smart move; it was a weak case.

In March 2014, the BC Supreme Court sided with the Township of Langley. You can read more about this in a post I did earlier this year.

What was alarming is that the Justice stated that regional growth strategies can only deal with matters that are regional in nature that “require coordination or that affect more than one municipality.” The Justice stated that the “University District” and “student housing” were not regional in nature and therefore Metro Vancouver didn’t have jurisdiction in that matter. This ruling put into jeopardy 45 years of regional land-use planning in BC.

Metro Vancouver appealed the decision. On Christmas Eve, the BC Court of Appeal dismissed Metro Vancouver’s case. The Justices looked at whether the “University District” and “student housing”, which required an update to the Township’s Rural Plan and Official Community Plan, invalidated the regional context statements which linked the Township’s land-use plans with the Livable Regional Strategic Plan. The Justices found that they didn’t.

As I said early, the Livable Regional Strategic Plan was weak when it came to enforcing regional gaols.

What is interesting about the BC Court of Appeal decision is that it didn’t speak to the original judgment which stated that essentially regional growth strategies cannot override municipal land-use decisions.

A regional growth strategies in BC is an agreement between member municipalities and the regional district. Regional growth strategies aren’t imposed on a municipality by a regional district.

The provincial government mandates that Metro Vancouver municipalities follow a regional growth strategy. The Local Government Act, which legislates regional districts and their growth strategies, outlines the process that must be followed when a municipality and a regional district don’t agree on a regional growth strategy. The process is very similar to negotiations done during a collective agreement.

With the Metro Vancouver case against the Township dismissed, will the Township of Langley now agree to the new, more prescriptive regional growth strategy?

If a municipality contravenes the land-use zoning as prescribed in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy, can Metro Vancouver do anything about it?

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