Metro Vancouver has again lost in court to Langley Township in a legal fight over whether the regional district’s rules to control urban sprawl trump the decisions of the municipality.
The B.C. Court of Appeal rejected Metro’s appeal of its earlier failed attempt to quash a Langley rezoning that allowed much smaller lot sizes so 67 new homes could be built on farmland near Trinity Western University.
All three judges in the appeal found no inconsistency between Langley Township’s Official Community Plan and its commitments under Metro’s growth strategy, rejecting Metro’s position that the rezoning was an illegal amendment.
The ruling also notes the areas slated for development within the A.C.T. Stock Farm owned by Peter Wall are “not suitable for agriculture” and the plans were conditionally approved by the Agricultural Land Commission.
The decision means homes can be built there as proposed, creating a larger university district near Highway 1, as well as on the 11-acre Hendricks farm further south in Langley where Metro also lost on appeal.
But Metro board chair Greg Moore said the regional district does not believe the defeat creates a dangerous precedent that unravels its new regional growth strategy or its future ability to restrain development to protect farmland.
“We obviously wish it had gone in a different direction,” Moore said. “But it isn’t as grand as some people have been making it out that it puts the whole regional growth strategy in question.”
He said the region had been most concerned about the language used by the lower court judge suggesting the regional district has no authority to interfere in local development decisions.
The appeal court’s more narrow ruling appears to have ignored those comments and left the regional district with teeth to enforce growth limits, he said, although there may need to be more explicit wording in regional context statements that cities pass to indicate how they will conform to Metro rules.
Langley Township had not yet adopted its new regional context statement when its council approved the development, so it was governed by Metro’s old 1998 Livable Region Strategic Plan, not the new regional growth strategy adopted in 2011.
Moore said he expects Langley Township will now pass its context statement and comply with the new growth strategy moving forward.
Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese said Moore is wrong to downplay the decision.
“I think this is significant moving forward on how regional districts relate to the member municipalities,” Froese said. “This case will resonate very strongly with the members. The right of locally elected governments to control land use planning is paramount.”
He said Metro is now admitting what the Township has long insisted – it was operating under the old growth strategy.
“They’ve changed their tune because we were right,” Froese said. “This is a nice Christmas present for me.”
Metro has also been at odds with Port Moody over that city’s plan to convert industrial land into higher density mixed uses.
Moore said the region and Port Moody have agreed to try to reach an out-of-court resolution by the end of March on what changes to the local Official Community Plan are acceptable.
Metro Vancouver had sought financial aid from the Union of B.C. Municipalities to fight the appeal against Langley Township, but was rejected on the basis UBCM could not support one of its members in court against another.