Over the last five years, the Village of Pemberton experienced one of the most significant population surges in the province, growing an astounding 32.4 per cent between 2016 and 2021, rising from 2,574 to 3,407 people.
On Oct. 15, Pemberton voters will elect a new mayor and council, led by one of three potential mayors: incumbent Mike Richman, former councillor David MacKenzie, and newcomer Chadi Abouhalka.
Pemberton’s new mayor will be tasked with guiding the community through a period of immense change. So, what does each candidate have to say about growth?
For Richman, the key to managing growth is to ensure the municipality is prepared with the proper infrastructure, while also maintaining the village’s unique character as it continues to grow.
“The one aspect of a growing community like ours is understanding how to manage that growth,” he said. “With the change that comes, the growth that comes, [we have to] make sure it is in line with the values and character of our town, and what makes it so special and what drew us all here in the first place.”
MacKenzie offered a similar sentiment.
“I want to make sure that as the growth rate happens—we’ve seen a lot of new housing starts, a lot of new people move into the community—but I want to make sure that we can balance that with the amenities and the infrastructure,” he said. “The amenities could be our recreational services, infrastructure, our wastewater treatment, our roadways, all of those things need to be taken into consideration to match that rate of growth that we’re experiencing.”
Abouhalka believes the municipality’s rapid growth needs to slow down, and a conversation about the Village’s future planning needs to take place.
“We need to rethink the way we’re moving. You cannot put your foot on the gas and go 100 miles an hour when you don’t know what’s in front of you,” he said. “We’re moving too far forward, too fast. When I moved here to the Village of Pemberton, there were 2,000 people. So to double that since 2007 is way too fast.”
HOW TO TACKLE HOUSING?
In Pemberton and beyond, housing represents perhaps the most complicated issue of the election. All three mayoral candidates admitted it’s a complex issue that requires a thoughtful approach.
Richman believes the municipality needs to continue working closely with the province and developers to identify the community’s housing needs and build what’s required.
“I think we really need to keep working very hard with the province to secure funds, and community groups, and bring projects to the valley that will fill [our needs], and to work with developers as they come in to make sure they understand the areas of need within our housing spectrum, and what kind of buildings we need,” Richman said. “We’ve done a housing needs assessment. We’re about to update it so that we can have those conversations with developers and really steer them in the direction of what Pemberton most needs.”
For MacKenzie’s money, a unified approach is the Village’s best bet.
“I think we need to look at some sort of a housing task force that brings all of the stakeholders to the table, and no idea is going to be a bad idea,” he said. “I think collectively, we need to put some people together at the table that can throw those ideas out there and figure out what policies we need to put in place.”
There has been movement on the housing file in Pemberton of late, though not fast enough for some.
Richman pointed to the Harrow Road housing development —headed for a public hearing, date TBD following the Queen’s passing, before consideration of third reading—as an example of some of the work the municipality has done with the province to bring affordable housing to the village.
“It’s 63 units, which is a huge win for a community of our size, and underneath, at the bottom floor, would be the Sea to Sky Community Services that they provide,” he said.
MacKenzie said he is generally in favour of affordable housing projects, but still has questions about the Harrow Road project.
“It looks to me like it’s moving a little too fast. As I’ve been talking with people, there’s a lot of people that have a lot of questions. I’m not sure if it’s the right location,” MacKenzie said.“Talking with seniors and people with low incomes, I know a lot of them don’t own automobiles, no transportation. So something a little closer to town, to our main village core, where it’s very walkable [would be better].”
Abouhalka also pointed to issues with the location of the housing project, and believes another site would be better.
“If they put that up, automatically it’s going to block [views]. They’re putting it right at the entrance of the Glen, which means that it’s going to bottleneck the entrance of the town and bottleneck the entrance to the Glen,” Abouhalka said. “So it’s very bad, poor planning, and in that sense, we need to reassess certain things.”
[Editor’s note: The location for Sea to Sky Community Services’ Harrow Road project was landed on after years of consultation with the Village of Pemberton and a variety of landowners. BC Housing is committed to financing the project in its current location, including the purchase of the land, provided zoning is in place on the site.]
WHAT ABOUT REC?
There was also a common agreement among mayoral candidates that the village could use more recreational facilities, but what that will look like is still up for discussion.
Abouhalka would like to see a pool, noting that residents currently have to go all the way to Whistler to use its facilities, and that at the doorstep, he has been hearing from many people that they would like to see such a project undertaken.
MacKenzie was generally open to the idea of more recreational facilities in the municipality, but believes taxation and timing are key when undertaking such projects.
“I think there’s always room for more [recreational facilities], and as I say, with the growth of our residential numbers, we need to make sure that we’ve got those services that match the needs of the community,” MacKenzie said.
Richman was enthusiastic about adding more facilities to the municipality, pointing to his record during his time in office that saw the opening of new recreational facilities in the village.
“When you look at a community like Pemberton, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in the province, and an exceptionally active community, I don’t think you can overstate the importance of having recreation assets for our folks,” Richman said.
“When it comes to indoor space, a gym, rink, pool, those sorts of facilities. I think it’s time we go back to the community on this one. They’ve been on the wish list here for many years, understandably.
“In my mind, we haven’t been able to afford them until now. As our community grows, I think we need to look ahead and build a plan to bring in those indoor recreational assets, like a rink and a pool. So we should start that now.”
Richman pointed out that the Village’s recreational master plan hasn’t been updated since 2014, and that it might be time to review and update the plan with community input to see what the community wants.
Election day is Oct. 15. An all-candidates meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 26 at the Pemberton and District Community Centre from 7 to 9 p.m.