Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese speaking at Metro Vancouver's board meeting Friday morning.

Metro Vancouver rejects urbanization of Langley farmland

Board holds firm on region's urban containment boundary, preservation of industrial land

The Metro Vancouver board shot down three attempts Friday to redraw its regional growth strategy in Langley Township that would have let residential development push further onto agricultural and industrial land.

Directors cited a dangerous precedent that would be set for future applications from Langley or other municipalities in the region if the requests had been granted.

Two of the three proposals involved bending Metro’s urban containment boundary, which aims to keep new residential development within a defined footprint across the region so it doesn’t sprawl into unwanted areas.

One would have put homes on eight hectares of farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve near 52 Avenue and 220 Street, just north of Langley Memorial Hospital.

Langley Township directors argued allowing urban development there would align with the existing North Murrayville neighbourhood and create a smoother boundary between homes and farms.

But the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) has not yet considered an ALR exclusion application there and Richmond Coun. Harold Steves said a green light from Metro would be used as a “wedge” to pressure the ALC to pull the property from the farmland reserve.

Steves said if the meandering, jagged line of the urban containment boundary was smoothed out elsewhere in the region – using the same logic – thousands of acres of farmland would be lost.

A second proposal from the Township of Langley would have created 21 new lots along the northern edge of farmland fronting 44 Avenue, east of 216 Street.

Proponent Alan Hendricks said the soil is poor and development would create more effective “edge planning” where urban and agricultural uses meet.

The land is also in the ALR and although the ALC has not agreed to its exclusion, it did consent to allow the homes as a non-farm use.

Several directors called that a poor decision by the ALC.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan warned Metro’s approval would encourage owners of other farms that abut urban areas to also try to develop a strip of homes.

“I think it’s important that we draw this line, that we hold this line and that we don’t permit uses that will be in contravention of the urban containment boundary,” said Corrigan, who chairs Metro’s regional planning committee.

Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese countered that the application had support from Metro planners and did not set a precedent.

“There are a million precedents out there already,” he said.

A third proposal near the northwest corner of Highway 1 and 200 Street spanned three properties that include an existing warehouse and a mobile home park.

The board rejected the township’s request to change the land designation in Metro’s growth strategy from mixed use to general urban for the 23 hectares.

Staff had opposed the application, warning it would allow the urbanization of the industrial part of the land and put more pressure on scarce industrial land elsewhere in the region.

“We’re talking one warehouse, not thousands of acres of farmland,” Froese said, adding redevelopment could allow the property to accommodate more housing units and more jobs.

Steves said Metro must be just as firm in preserving industrial land, which is one of the growth plan’s goals.

“I am very concerned every time we take industrial land and convert it to urban or to mixed use because that means there’s a run on farmland somewhere else,” Steves said.

Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner also said the proposal would add to the slow erosion of industrial land and noted its strategic location near the Port Kells industrial area, the South Fraser Perimeter Road, Highway 1 and railway yards.

Two mayors – White Rock’s Wayne Baldwin and Belcarra’s Ralph Drew – expressed concern that Metro was being too heavy-handed in rejecting Langley Township’s wishes.

“The regional district is taking an unwavering hard line regarding these artificially created boundaries,” Drew said, calling the Township’s approach to its development challenges “common sense.”

Baldwin warned thwarting relatively minor amendments that one community wants could eventually undermine board unity on more critical regional planning issues.

Location of strip of ALR land where Township of Langley proposed bending the urban containment boundary south to allow more development of homes.

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