AN OPERATIONAL PLAN IN ACTION

In July 1993 the Council of the Township of Langley adopted the Langley Rural Plan. The Plan was a breakthrough document. Compared to other land use plans, the Langley Rural Plan was far more responsive to agricultural issues. At several points the plan was extremely innovative and its contents, goals, objectives and policies, as a package, were far more comprehensive than any other official planning document applied to the ALR up to that time.
The Plan’s foundations include the process followed to complete the plan, the decision to focus a major land use planning exercise exclusively on the rural, mostly agricultural, area and the philosophical commitment of Langley Council, staff, participants and general public. The result was to build a land use vision of the community’s rural areas that pro-actively supports the agricultural sector.
The 1993 Langley Rural Plan stands apart from other planning exercises due to a combination of its process, focus and philosophical commitment to pro-actively support sustainable agriculture in Langley.
The Township of Langley is a classic example of a community with a robust agricultural sector facing the pressures of rapid urbanization. Between 1971 and 1996 the Township’s population went from 22,000 to over 80,000. Langley rests within and on the eastern edge of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, Canada’s third largest and most rapidly growing metropolitan area. Looking at Langley agriculturally, the development of a focused rural plan may not come as a surprise. The Township, in 1996, had total annual gross farm receipts of over $150 million (second among all B.C. municipalities), over 13,000 hectares in farm use28 and 77% of the Township in the ALR. Yet, despite their agricultural credentials, urban challenges in communities like Langley tend to dominate planning agendas. What was different in this case was that Langley decided to tackle its rural / agricultural issues while ‘standing’ firmly on the rural side of fence. This perspective was fundamental to the development and success of the plan.
"Through the rural planning process the township is taking an active approach to rural planning, focusing as much planning attention on the rural area as on urban communities."
    Paul Crawford
    Plan Canada, March 1993, p. 17
The suggestion within this report, to place far greater importance in the plan delivery process on the operational, ‘neighbourhood’ level Agricultural Area Plan was inspired by the approach taken by the Township of Langley. The Langley Rural Plan clearly offers a foundation upon which to build.
The March 1993 edition of Plan Canada includes the article, "Preserving Rural Character in an Urban Region - Rural Planning in the Township of Langley", written by Paul Crawford, a planner with the Township who was central to the development of Rural Plan. Mr. Crawford’s article is recommended as further reading. Following is a brief highlight of the process and contents, both of which emphasize the importance of a focused rural planning exercise.

The Planning Process — Langley Rural Plan:

  1. Council held a workshop in 1988 to explicitly consider rural issues.

  2. In 1989 Council resolved to undertake a rural plan.

  3. Planning staff worked with a former chair of the Agricultural Land Commission to develop the basis of a rural plan early in 1990.

  4. The Langley Tomorrow Program, completed in 1990, was undertaken to develop a corporate mission statement. A survey was conducted to understand community values. It was discovered that the rural nature of the community was important to all residents.

  5. An agricultural land use inventory underway for a portion of the rural area was extended by Langley to include all of the planning area.

  6. A first draft of a policy document was completed in the form of a "proposal for discussion".

  7. A series of workshops were held with a wide range of rural stakeholders to discuss the draft policy document.

"The primary goal of the plan is to enhance agricultural viability through protection of agricultural land, preservation of larger lot sizes and creation of policies to encourage the agricultural industry."29

  1. The plan’s development was assisted by the involvement of the Economic Development Commission which in turn undertook a study of the agricultural industry in the Township to determine how to support and enhance the farm sector.

  2. Public open houses were held to obtain feedback on the Plan proposals.

  3. The Agricultural Land Commission and staff assisted during the process through attendance at workshops and by reviewing plan drafts, which included several staff, Council and the Commission meeting in various combinations.

  4. The draft Rural Plan was finalized and another round of open houses were held.

  5. A public hearing and adoption of the Langley Rural Plan took place in 1993.

The Rural Plan benefited from a very open process. While more common in regional district planning efforts, the focus on the rural portion of the community was ground- breaking in a municipal context. The approach did not permit rural/agricultural issues to become dominated by urban concerns, and was responsive to a majority of the Township’s citizens - both rural and urban. This progressive planning programme was undertaken within the scope of the Municipal Act but was successful largely because of the philosophical commitment and leadership of Langley’s staff and Council.


Plan Highlights — Langley Rural Plan:

    Vision

    Perhaps most importantly was a change in the overall vision of the long term future of Langley’s agricultural land base. The Langley OCP had formerly maintained the concept of the rural area as equal parts rural residential and agricultural. The Rural Plan retained this vision only for a portion of the rural area in the form of a "Small Farms / Country Estates" designation which applies substantially to lands close to urban areas and significantly parcelized.

    Policy Harmony

    The Plan also establishes, as policy, the protection of the agricultural land base and enhances the viability of agriculture by the inclusion of policies to encourage the industry. This basic policy direction moves local government policy into close harmony with that of the Province.

    "Agriculture/Countryside"

    The majority of the plan area and ALR within the Township was placed in an "Agriculture/Countryside" designation within which, "...agricultural uses and considerations shall have priority over non-agricultural uses..." Most of the "Agriculture / Countryside" designation formerly had a1.7 hectare minimum lot size. After adoption of the Plan the Zoning Bylaw was amended for these lands to an 8 hectare minimum lot size to thwart parcelization and lessen expectations of subdivision.

    Buffering Policies

    It is relatively common for plans to contain a policy statement supporting land use buffering. However, more often than not, this has not translated into the development of buffering criteria ( where, when and what buffering techniques to apply). The Rural Plan, while not including a comprehensive "Edge Plan", does include several specific policies directed at increasing land use compatibility at the Township’s lengthy agricultural interface.

    Agro-Service Centre

    A centrally located Agro-Service Centre was designated to provide a location for commercial and industrial uses supporting the agricultural sector and to limit the dispersal of these uses in less appropriate areas throughout the ALR.

    Agricultural Awareness

    The Plan takes a number of actions to enhance awareness of agriculture and living in a rural setting. A guide to farm gate sales is produced each year and Langley sponsors a booth at the PNE promoting the municipality’s agricultural sector.

    Other Rural Uses

    The Plan also recognizes other rural uses, expands recreational opportunities in areas largely compatible with agriculture and provides for limited commercial and industrial activities. The plan supports bed and breakfast uses and farm vacations. Policies protect watercourses and encourage good agricultural practices and conservation measures to minimize soil erosion. The Plan also recognizes the importance of heritage conservation, scenic rural roads and vistas. Importantly, non-farm use policies were developed from an agricultural perspective, consciously considering their impact on farming.


There are two other significant features of the Plan. The Rural Plan is seen only as a foundation for a more comprehensive rural planning programme to include: economic development initiatives, an environmental inventory, a trail and country roads program and more detailed rural area plans.

It is common for OCPs to contain broad supportive agricultural policies (consistent with the intent of community plans) that do little to identify issues, seek solutions or provide directly supportive policies to the agricultural sector. A second important feature of the Langley Rural Plan is a number of actions that need to be undertaken to support theagricultural industry. It is this type of "action" policy that clearlysets the Langley Rural Plan apart from many other community planning efforts and further illustrates the benefits of an operational plan. As Paul Crawford has commented, "The plan goes beyond land use issues to identify actions that the municipality and economic development commission can undertake to strengthen the rural economy."30 He summarized these as follows:

Typical OCP Policies

"To preserve and protect agricultural and forestry land resources."

"Encourage protection of agricultural land through support of the ALR and encouragement of continued farm use on agricultural land."

"The municipality supports the objectives of the Agricultural Land Commission to encourage the preservation of agricultural land and use providing it will not significantly hamper urban development."

Action Policies — Langley Rural Plan:

  • investigate the feasibility of an agricultural demonstration centre;

  • support the location or relocation of a university agricultural faculty in the Township;

  • encourage the development of short agricultural courses in local educational institutions

  • promote public awareness of the economic value of agriculture (for example, posting signs advising of agricultural activities in the area, developing a list of farm operations offering farm gate sales and encouraging and assisting in the development of farm tours and visits);

  • investigate the feasibility of a farmers’ market;

  • develop an award system for innovative agricultural products, businesses and management;

  • develop a program to promote leasing of land for agricultural purposes;

  • publish a brochure with information of interest to new rural residents;

  • encourage the Provincial government to have an agricultural extension specialist to assist new farmers and hobby farmers;

  • help to market the greenhouse and horse industries; and

  • publish a newsletter dealing with issues of concern to rural residents.

Despite its considerable success, the Langley Rural Plan was a Plan that the Agricultural Land Commission could warmly endorse but not fully support. There remained some components of the Plan (including the extent of the Small Farms / Country Estate designation and the fact that not all land in the ALR was included in the rural planning area) that the Commission could not endorse. Having said this, it must be clearly recognized that on balance the Plan represents a major achievement in its sensitivity to agricultural issues.

The Plan has made a fundamental adjustment in the long term vision of most of the Township’s agricultural land. It provides for a number of directly supportive actions for agriculture and has moved local and Provincial land use policy into an era of mutual commitment to the preservation of agricultural land and the agricultural industry. Moreover, the Plan should also provide the foundation upon which the Commission and Township can enter into agreements for the possible delegation of decision-making power to the Township in specific circumstances.

Clearly, the Township’s philosophic commitment, its open process, its focus on rural issues and supportive agricultural policies represent a major achievement and one that can be both emulated and built upon in other ways to improve the manner in which we plan for agriculture.

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Greenhouse:  Township of Langley

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