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Metro responds to growth strategy criticism

Metro Vancouver has issued a response to a West Coast Environmental Law analysis that claims the region's growth strategy plan could cause legal problems. At the heart of this argument are parcels of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, in Aldergrove and Richmond's Garden City Lands, which have been designated as "general urban" or "industrial" under the new plan.

"Urban development is not an allowed use under the Agricultural Land Reserve, and under the. . . Agricultural Land Commission Act, every government in B.C. is supposed to be making sure their policies are consistent with the act," Andrew Gage, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law told The Tyee this week.

The letter notes that Metro Vancouver used the region's 1996 Livable Region Strategic Plan as the starting point for determining which lands should be identified as non-urban in the new regional growth strategy plan. In that plan, the Aldergrove and Garden City Lands were not part of the Green Zone -- which included all of the region's conservation, recreation and agricultural lands -- but instead had an urban designation.

"When Richmond and the Township of Langley reviewed the draft maps for the Regional Growth Strategy, they requested that the 1996 Livable Region Strategic Plan designations remain for the Garden City Lands and the Aldergrove Lands. . . " states the letter.

It also notes that should a municipality request a change to any agricultural designation, it would require approval from two-thirds of the Metro Vancouver board, plus a public hearing "which is the highest threshold defined for amending a regional land use designation."

"The Strategy also includes a number of parcels in the Agricultural designation that are not in the Agricultural Land Commission, one example of this being the "Southlands" parcel in Delta. . . " states the letter.

Excerpts of the response letter, signed by Metro's regional development division manager Christina DeMarco, are published below. The full response can be found on West Coast Environmental Law's website, here.

The practical effect of the Garden City Lands and the Aldergrove Lands having a regional "General Urban" or "Industrial" designation is that if, at some point in the future, the Agricultural Land Commission determines that these lands may be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve, Richmond and the Township of Langley, respectively, will not need to apply to the Metro Vancouver Board for a change to the regional designation. 

The regional "Urban" or "Industrial" designations do not mean that the Agricultural Land Commission will become "impotent" with respect to these lands, as some critics have suggested. Under the laws of British Columbia, the Agricultural Land Commission Act takes precedence over local government bylaws: if the Agricultural Land Commission determines that these lands must remain within the ALR then that determination prevails over any local government bylaws that are not consistent with such determination.

. . . Metro Vancouver recognises that the Agricultural Land Commission Act takes precedence over the Regional Growth Strategy and to address the Commission's concerns. It is Metro Vancouver's position that the Regional Growth Strategy is not inconsistent with the Agricultural Land Commission Act. However, to the extent there is any inconsistency, the Agricultural Land Commission Act resolves the issue by providing that the Regional Growth Strategy has, to the extent of the inconsistency, no force or effect. . .

It is important that the public is aware that Metro Vancouver is actively working to protect the region's agricultural land and to support the Agricultural Land Commission. The Regional Growth Strategy includes many policies that support the protection of agricultural lands, and the viability of those lands, in tandem with the Agricultural Land Commission's mandate. 

The Regional Growth Strategy sets out policies for Metro Vancouver to limit the development of agricultural land by limiting sewer provisions on those lands (policy 2.3.1). It directs Metro Vancouver to undertake technical work to monitor the status of agricultural land with the objective of promoting agricultural viability and food security (policy 2.3.2). Metro Vancouver is also committed to working with the province and the Agricultural Land Commission to develop strategies to support farming (policy 2.3.3). Most importantly, the Regional Growth Strategy explicitly states that Metro Vancouver's role is to work with the Commission to protect the region's agricultural land base and not amend the Agricultural or Rural land use designation of a site if it is still part of the Agricultural Land Reserve (policy 2.3.4).

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee

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