Township and Metro Van in court

Langley Township’s plans to allow an “urban-style” subdivision on agricultural land near Trinity Western University is a major assault on the region’s green zone and would “blow a big hole in the regional plan,” said Metro Vancouver lawyers. 

In opening arguments in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday, counsel Gregg Cockrill said Langley Township’s plan to rezone the land near the university is not consistent with its regional context statement, which was approved in 1998 with the intent to preserve agricultural land and maintain the area’s rural character by limiting lot size and restricting growth to urban town centres. 

The regional context statement is part of the Township’s Official Community Plan. It also includes a rural plan and various local area plans. 

“One of the main protections of the regional context statement was to say, ‘We’re going to protect these green zone lands by not allowing urban growth within in it,’” Cockerill told Justice Neena Sharma. “It’s more than just protecting agricultural land. It’s about preserving the countryside character. There’s other issues at stake.” 

Metro is arguing that the Township had set a minimum of eight hectares per lot size in the university district, but is now looking to allow a 67-lot, single-family subdivision proposed by developer Peter Wall on 13 hectares that would see homes as small as 2,800 square feet. 

The rezoning was approved by the Township council in July, but Metro is concerned this could lead to more “Wall-style” residential development, with no stipulations on lot sizes, around the university. 

The project has received conditional approval from the Agricultural Land Commission, but Metro is calling on the court to order a stop to the Township’s plans. 

“(The Wall development) is for very tiny lots, and lots of them, very densely packed,” 

Cockrill said. “A residential development at this size is an urban-style development.” 

Township Mayor Jack Froese says his council has a legal right to rezone the property, which has been earmarked for development for more than two decades and is intended to “provide educational, employment, and residential opportunities for future generations.” He argues that council based its decision on the livable region strategy, adopted in 1996 – and not the regional growth strategy, which was signed in 2011. 

Township counsel Paul Hildebrand argued Monday that Metro is trying to micro-manage its affairs despite the fact that 75 per cent of the Township is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and most decisions are controlled by the land commission. 

He noted the Wall development went through many incarnations before it was finally approved by the commission, and holds many conditions, including that it be built on lower-quality agricultural land and include a salmon-enhancement area. 

“We’ve only been doing things in accordance with what we said we would do in 1996,” Hildebrand said. 

Hildebrand charged that Metro is trying to strengthen its position by claiming that Langley is not maintaining its rural character, after it “realized how much trouble they were in when they saw the ALC documents.” 

“Langley is touched by the concern that [Metro] has for the rural appearance in Langley, but Langley believes that’s a more local concern,” Hildebrand said. 

Trinity Western University and Peter Wall, who owns the Wall Centre, have been granted intervener status in the hearing, which is slated for three days. Landowner Al Hendricks, whose proposal to develop four hectares in North Murrayville was also rejected by Metro, is also represented in a separate case that will be heard later this week. 

– Kelly Sinoski is a Vancouver Sun reporter

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