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Developer Sean Hodgins speaks at a municipality of Delta public hearing over the proposed Southlands development in Delta, B.C. on Oct. 28, 2013.Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

Delta Council has given a green light to the controversial Southlands development proposal, setting the stage for Metro Vancouver to determine whether the project can proceed.

Council on Friday voted to approve the Southlands project, which would put 950 homes on the site of a one-time potato farm in Tsawwassen. Under the proposal, about 20 per cent of the 217-hectare site would be used for housing, with the other 80 per cent transferred to Delta to create the Southlands Community Farm District.

Plans call for that district to be used for small-scale farming operations.

The project, the latest in a string of proposals for the property over the past thirty years, is controversial because it would put houses, roads and other infrastructure on land that is currently designated for agricultural use. Opponents have also questioned the wisdom of putting homes in a low-lying area that is not well-served by transit and whether farming operations can thrive next to a residential subdivision.

Delta held five days of hearings on the project last week.

The land in question used to be part of the Agricultural Land Reserve, but was removed in 1981.

The site is owned by Century Group, which acquired it and some nearby property after a previous owner's plans to develop the lands failed to win council approval. In 1995, Century sold some property to the province, which used it to create the Boundary Bay Regional Park.

Opponents say council's approval does not mesh with recent land use decisions and that they would continue to fight the project.

Since the current Southlands project was proposed in 2011, Delta has approved both an official community plan and a regional growth strategy that called for the site to remain agricultural, Richard Kunz, a spokesman for Southlands The Facts, a group opposing the project, said on Friday.

"So now they [Delta Council] have to go to Metro and say, 'well, we weren't being truthful in our community plan or in our regional growth strategy,'" Mr. Kunz said.

Mr. Kunz's group also maintains that the Southlands project flies in the face of established regional planning principles such as not building on flood plains and focusing development around areas well-served by transit.

"We will be mobilizing the community to prepare for those hearings at Metro," Mr. Kunz said.

In an interview that took place before council approved the project, Century Group president Sean Hodgins said the company is able to transfer such a large chunk of the site to Delta because of the rise in property values since Century acquired the site.

"We acquired it when land was relatively inexpensive," Mr. Hodgins said. "We held it for a long time and the value of the 20 per cent we are developing – I wish it was more, but I am trying to make this [project] work for the community."

With approval from Delta, the project now goes to Metro Vancouver. The proposal would require changing the regional land use designation from agriculture to general urban and conservation and recreation uses. That step involves a regional public hearing and approval by two-thirds of Metro directors.

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