Metro Vancouver pushes back on Langley university district

Dispute is first major test of new regional growth strategy

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves is the vice-chair of Metro Vancouver's regional planning committee.

Metro Vancouver is asking the Township of Langley to step back from its plan to develop a huge university district on farmland, arguing it’s not currently allowed under the new Regional Growth Strategy.

The board voted Friday to ask the township to shelve the university district plan until it submits it for formal board approval, through a revised regional context statement, and possibly a formal amendment to the Metro growth plan enacted last year.

But the township says it won’t voluntarily submit to what could be a regional veto, setting the stage for a possible legal battle between the municipality and the regional district over the proposed 180-hectare rezoning near Highway 1 and Glover Road.

Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese told the board his council has “very solid legal advice” that its process is legal and not in conflict with the growth strategy.

He also made the case that Langley Township should be permitted to carve aside a district dedicated to higher learning and related uses, adding the land otherwise may be consumed by sprawl and be unavailable for long-term institutional growth.

“This area is going to grow,” Froese said. “I’m looking down the road 50 years, 100 years, 200 years.”

The proposed district is home to faith-based Trinity Western University and Pacific Redeemer College.

It includes farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve but the land commission has already conditionally approved the rezoning.

Froese, a farmer, called the agricultural value of the area “marginal.”

He said it’s already served by transit and is adjacent to urban zones.

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves, vice-chair of Metro’s regional planning committee, described Metro’s request as an olive branch inviting the township to apply for approval through the proper Metro process.

“We feel they are bound by the Regional Growth Strategy and the urban containment boundary,” he said.

It’s the first major test of the teeth in the new plan and of Metro’s determination to block sprawl and concentrate growth in urban zones as agreed.

The dispute arises because the growth plan included special study areas outside the urban areas where cities signaled they wanted to allow more intensive development.

Metro allowed the university district to be designated as a special study area, but Metro officials say the plan to include urban residential and commercial development on agricultural land goes beyond what they previously agreed to consider.

Metro rejects Langley Township’s contention the area isn’t governed by either the new growth strategy or the old one because of a transition period.

“If Langley is correct and they are not bound by the regional growth strategy, then they are bound by the previous regional plan and its green zone, which is much stronger,” Steves said.

Either way, he said, Langley Township would have to come to the board and get approval of any redrawing of the urban containment boundary.

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