Metro Vancouver’s ability to enforce its regional growth strategy to limit urban sprawl is in doubt after the regional district lost a court decision that gives the Township of Langley ultimate authority over land development.
Wednesday’s ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Neena Sharma clears the way for the development of a large “university district” of homes and shops around Trinity Western University near Highway 1.
Metro went to court to force Langley to comply with the growth strategy, which aims to concentrate urban-style growth in town centres and keep it out of farmland and rural areas.
The township had rezoned the rural land in defiance of the regional plan without getting a required two-thirds majority vote of the Metro board.
Langley Township council maintained it could legally make the land-use change without regional approval because of a two-year transition period following the growth strategy’s adoption in 2011.
The court agreed and went further, saying Metro’s powers don’t supercede a municipality’s authority within its own boundaries.
“Regional matters can only be those that require coordination or that affect more than one municipality,” Sharma ruled. “[Metro’s’] focus can be on the region’s Green Zone but that does not justify micro-management of member municipalities’ decisions on individual developments.”
Metro board chair Greg Moore said the regional district is “very concerned” the ruling could set a precedent allowing other cities to build on farmland or green space.
“We’re looking at all of our options right now,” he said when asked if an appeal is likely.
Moore said there’s little point having a growth strategy – even though it’s required by provincial law – if it’s not enforceable.
“For us, this isn’t about Langley, this is about the regional growth strategy we’ve all agreed to and what are the repercussions of that moving forward.”
All Metro municipalities unanimously adopted the growth strategy. It was the second such document, replacing the older Livable Region Strategic Plan.
“We think that the regional district has a significant role to play in controlling the land use around the region,” Moore said.
Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese welcomed the ruling.
“The decision by the court will allow Trinity to grow and serve the needs of future students and the community as a whole,” Froese said.
– with files from Dan Ferguson