Pemberton council rescinds bylaw restricting drive-thru restaurants 

Council makes 'tough decision,' voting 3-1 against zoning amendment

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - DRIVE-THRU DEBATE Coun. Jennie Helmer believes fast-food outlets, like the McDonald's on Vine Road, don't fit in with Pemberton's character.
  • photo submitted
  • DRIVE-THRU DEBATE Coun. Jennie Helmer believes fast-food outlets, like the McDonald's on Vine Road, don't fit in with Pemberton's character.

Pemberton's council has voted to rescind a contentious zoning amendment bylaw that was proposed to restrict drive-thru restaurants in the village's Gateway area.

In July, council gave first and second reading to the amendment, which was intended to protect the character of the village. But amidst strong opposition from the local business community, elected officials voted 3-1 against the bylaw.

"It was a tough decision," noted Mayor Mike Richman, who said council went back and forth on the issue. "We'd heard from some very vocal opinions at our public hearing, as well as feedback from our referral groups and individual constituents, so there was really a lot to consider."

One of the amendment's opponents was Pemberton Day Lodge owner-operator David MacKenzie, who believes it would have sent the wrong message to prospective developers.

"I'm just hoping (council) got the message and there's an appetite to welcome development," he said. "We need that new taxation. It's so critical to the growth and sustainability of our community."

For the past 11 years MacKenzie has been trying to get a restaurant built in front of his hotel. Last year, his lot at 1490 Portage Road was rezoned to allow drive-in restaurants, which came with renewed interest from developers. But when the zoning amendment was put to council this summer, the deal stalled just before it was about to be inked.

MacKenzie believes it's that lack of certitude at town hall that can keep business at bay.

"Municipalities are famous for delaying the development approval process, and with any development, the minute you delay things or put in more red tape, the costs for the development go up," he said. "We don't want that negative message continuing to be out there and we need to make sure Pemberton is open for business."

Even after the bylaw's squashing, the concerns around maintaining Pemberton's "unique character" are still very much at the top of mind for mayor and council.

"A big part of the conversation was that removing drive-thrus wasn't the end-all solution to this," Richman said. "Protecting the (town's) identity can be done through the development permit process and through our (Official Community Plan), so we're going to look even deeper into that just to make sure those interests are protected."

But for Councillor Jennie Helmer, who voted in support of the zoning amendment, it's not just the visual impact of adding drive-thru restaurants to Pemberton's core that she's concerned with.

"It's up to Pemberton to decide what kind of business we're open for and to cultivate the business we choose to have," she said. "It's up to us to decide what we want Pemberton to look like in 20 years, and I don't support a vision that includes only developments on the highway.

"It's not a good reflection of who we are."

Notably, the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce also backed the proposed bylaw, issuing two letters of support.

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