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As Pemberton’s population surges, officials want to ensure it has enough housing supply to keep up

Report details the amount of land VOP needs to set aside to support community’s housing needs for next 5 years
Looking northwest up the Pemberton Valley.

With the most recent census data confirming Pemberton as one of British Columbia’s fastest growing communities, elected officials heard a presentation from Village of Pemberton (VOP) staff on Nov. 29 meant to guide future housing strategies in Spud Valley.

Between 2016 and 2021, Pemberton’s population grew by a whopping 32.4 per cent, from 2,574 to 3,407, outstripping the rate of the surrounding Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) in that time.

With that in mind, Tuesday’s report was meant to evaluate both the current and projected housing supply in Pemberton to ensure that the VOP has set aside enough land for residential development to support the community’s housing needs for at least five years.

“This data matters [to assess] housing needs, facilities and infrastructure, and to help inform decision-making,” said planner Avery Hargitt, who presented the overview to mayor and council.  

Drawing from Statistics Canada census data, as well as housing and development statistics from the VOP’s internal records, the report noted that, overall, the SLRD grew by 7,381 between 2016 and 2021, with 833 of those new residents coming to Pemberton.

While other Sea to Sky communities also experienced significant growth spurts, Pemberton’s 32-per-cent jump was still higher than Whistler (19 per cent), Squamish (22 per cent) and the SLRD (18 per cent).

“Pemberton is outpacing and outgrowing Whistler and the SLRD quite rapidly [in terms of growth rate],” said Hargitt. 

This has had impacts on household makeup as well. Hargitt pointed out that the average household size in Pemberton over the last decade has been around 2.5, while there are about 1,467 dwellings in the Village. Those two figures multiplied equals roughly 3,667, which is slightly higher than Pemberton’s currently reported population. This number indicates, at least on paper, that the VOP has been able to meet the housing needs of its citizens so far. 

The overview also offered a snapshot of Pemberton’s current development landscape. In total, there are 267 active applications (including 111 single-family dwellings and 92 townhomes) in the zoning stage, 264 in the development-permit stage (195 apartments, 69 townhomes) and 186 in the building-permit stage (including 74 single-family dwellings). 

Out of 947 total proposed residences, 721 are slated to be built in the core, or “downtown cluster” of Pemberton. An additional 226 are planned for the so-called “hillside cluster,” which includes Sunstone, The Ridge and The Plateau. 

It should be noted that, while proposals in the building-permit stage are more likely to be completed sooner than those in the zoning stage, not all projects flow from one stage to another in a linear fashion. Additionally, some of these proposals may not work out due to various factors, such as broader economic conditions or project-specific challenges. 

Nonetheless, these statistics appear promising to Scott McRae, Pemberton’s manager of development services. 

“Those numbers indicate a very strong interest in investing in our community,” he said at the council meeting. “Housing investment is a prerequisite for all sorts of more sophisticated types of investment, like businesses deciding to relocate, so I think it’s a necessity to attract highly competitive firms and talented workers to our region.

“An abundance of development applications is a good position to be in,” McRae continued. “Interest rates, prices and other market fundamentals will throttle ultimate supply and match it to meet demand. This is a process that unfolds over many years.” 

A significant majority (74 per cent) of current Pemberton residents live in market housing, while 22 per cent live in secondary dwellings, and three per cent in purpose-built rentals. Thirty-five per cent of Pemberton dwellings are of the single-family variety, with 26 per cent being townhomes, 22 per cent secondary suites and 17 per cent apartments. 

In response to a question from the public, McRae and Mayor Richman explained that the council has virtually no authority to intervene when private landowners choose to develop their own property, so long as those landowners adhere to existing zoning bylaws and regulations. However, council members can exercise discretion over proposed zoning amendments and influence how building bylaws will evolve. 

“The council is going to have an opportunity to have a bigger conversation about growth and development as part of the OCP update,” said McRae. “[The result of that conversation] will be codified in the next OCP that the Village will follow for the next 10 years.”