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Census 2011

Metro Vancouver’s bid to curb urban sprawl faces instant tests Add to ...

As tens of thousands of newcomers continue to pour into Metro Vancouver, two controversial developments are about to test the region’s just-approved plan aimed at preventing sprawl.

The two developments, at opposite ends of the region, have already prompted Metro Vancouver planners to send out warning letters to the local councils involved that they’ll need approval from the whole region to rezone their land.

One is in the Township of Langley, which Wednesday’s 2011 census numbers showed grew by more than 10 per cent in the past five years.

There, Trinity Western University and the Wall Financial Group are asking to put more housing on and around the 10-hectare grounds, now in a rural zone almost 10 kilometres from Langley’s downtown, to create a “university district.” Both pieces of property have been given conditional approvals already to be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve. Council will vote on whether to approve the rezoning on Monday.

The other is in the Tsawwassen section of Delta, a slow-growing suburb looking for ways to bring more people in. The Century Group is proposing close to 1,000 new units of housing on a chunk of green-zone land, once called the Spetifore lands, now Southlands.

It was removed from the agricultural reserve 30 years ago and the fierce fight over its use prompted then-B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm to sharply curtail the region’s planning powers in the 1980s.

The owner is offering to build on only 20 per cent of the 200 hectares and give the other 80 per cent to Delta so it can be turned back into farmland.

Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore said the new Regional Growth Strategy, with tougher new rules for preventing sprawl, will require that local councils – if they decide to approve a rezoning outside the agreed-on “urban containment zones” – convince politicians across the region that they are a good idea.

“Under the strategy, you have to go to your colleagues around the region and show that this is a positive impact regionally.”

Both projects have attracted vociferous opposition: the Southlands project for years and the Langley project just in the past few weeks at quickly organized public hearings.

“Rezoning land in the middle of the [Agricultural Land Reserve] for high-density housing is the worst sort of spot zoning imaginable,” says Doug McFee, a doctor and long-time member of the Salmon River Enhancement Society, who helped mobilize speakers to come out against the rezoning.

He and others say it goes against everything that sustainable development means to create a high-density “university district” so far from Langley’s growing urban core.

“If [the Township] ignores the protests of the community and votes for this development, then council will be showing contempt for proper planning and contempt for the recently passed Metro Regional Growth Strategy.”

But both municipalities show signs of being willing to listen to the proposals beyond the usual legal requirement to allow any landowner to make an application.

In Langley, township staff have supported the rezoning, saying that a university district was always part of their community plan – and that means the rezoning won’t have to get approval from the region’s politicians.

“We feel it is completely in compliance,” said Ramin Seifi, the community-development manager.

In Delta, Mayor Lois Jackson said the Southlands proposal has got a lot of people interested because of the offer to give land back.

“The possibility of putting 400 acres back into farming – that would be quite a thing.”

However, she said she knows that Delta is going to have to make the case at some point to politicians from the other 21 municipalities in Metro.

“We know that it’s possible that a community was totally in support of something and their Official Community Plan was amended and then the region could turn it down.”

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