The Metro Vancouver regional authority has fired an unexpected shot to signal serious intentions around its 2011 Regional Growth Strategy.
At a closed meeting on Wednesday, May 16, Metro’s planning committee voted to take legal action if the Township of Langley, a member municipality within Metro, continued with plans for residential development on Trinity Western University property. Members of the Township’s council responded that the regional politicians were exceeding their authority.
The Township of Langley has a dispersed footprint. Some of it goes back to the pioneering birth of scattered villages such as Aldergrove; but Township Council has continued to build in all directions, as with the location of a major industrial park on the rural eastern perimeter. The Langley-based South Fraser Blog has been critical of the current Trinity Western proposal, suggesting that it lies beyond any reasonable urban boundary. Apparently some Metro politicians agree.
The old Liveable Region plan, dating from 1996, painted a picture of concentrated, transit-friendly development, but municipal governments routinely ignored it. The 2011 growth strategy is more precise and has more teeth — at least hypothetically, although it was unclear at the start whether the rules would actually be applied. Metro’s structure has not changed; it’s a political orphan, normally harmless, governed by council members from the cities and towns who drop in from time to time. But the planning committee is currently chaired by Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, an outspoken and some would say combative politician who is unchallenged in his own city.
There are several dimensions to this dispute. Some in Langley have characterized it as an attempt by inner-city densifiers to meddle in normal suburban development. However, the fact is that Burnaby (and Richmond, and Coquitlam, and the District of North Van) are very suburban in their development patterns. I would speculate that Mayor Corrigan is more interested in containing costs. Sewer, water and waste management account for 84 per cent of the regional budget. Concern about the continued extension of regional sewer and water lines is at the heart of the Regional Growth Strategy.
The Metro committee vote came in the same week that Langley Township Council held a workshop discussion about whether the Township has a place in the region or should seek another arrangement. The discussion gets tangled up with complaints about the regional transportation authority , which is a separate agency. Mayor Corrigan has intervened here too, saying that Langley Township has made long-term choices in favour of roads and highways, and should not complain if there’s no money left for transit.
The Township’s Mayor, Jack Froese, has agreed to halt further approvals on the Trinity Western proposal until after consultations with Metro. But it seems likely that Metro’s actions on the Trinity property will intensify the desire of some Township residents to leave Metro. Langley MLA Rich Coleman, one of British Columbia’s senior cabinet ministers, urged separation after the Corrigan committee vote; Coleman, to introduce another dimension, is a very partisan Liberal, while Corrigan is a godfather to the BC New Democrats.
One possibility for change would be be the creation of a small mid-Fraser regional district consisting of Langley Township, the City of Abbotsford (which has voted to exit the Fraser Valley Regional District) and the District of Mission. (The City of Langley has been less dissatisfied; it is compact and very active in Metro and TransLink.) Another option is a bigger district south and north of the Fraser (Fraseroonia?) anchored by the City of Surrey; it would come into the world with an initial population of a million people.
Neither option would be all bad, but I see slight benefit for ordinary people from the point of view of governance, costs, or public services. The key exception would be a reduction in fuel taxes, mostly in the mini-region; the extent of the reduction would depend on expectations around transit.