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Pemberton planning for population to reach 5,000

How will new B.C. housing laws affect the mountain village?
Pemberton’s population grew 32 per cent between 2016 and 2021.

Pemberton’s mayor and council considered the implications of future population growth at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Nov. 28—and what the town might look like when its population hits 5,000.

At the meeting, officials held a workshop on affordable housing to work through problems residents are currently facing, and to predict other issues coming down the line. The open discussion was casual, and served as a starting point for future talks based on some of B.C.’s new housing laws.

The province is introducing new housing legislation to deliver more small-scale, multi-unit housing for residents. These will include townhomes, triplexes and laneway homes, and fix outdated zoning rules to help build more homes faster.

“Anyone looking for a place to live in a community they love knows how hard it is—and outdated zoning rules are making that even harder,” said Premier David Eby in a release. “Constructing mostly high-rise condo towers or single-family homes means B.C. isn’t building enough small-scale multi-unit homes that fit into existing neighbourhoods and give people more housing options that are within reach. That’s why we’re taking action to fix zoning problems and deliver more homes for people, faster.”

Historically, single-family homes have been the preference, but are now priced beyond many people’s budgets. The proposed legislation will allow a minimum of one secondary suite or one laneway home in all single-family or duplex residential zones throughout the province.

In places where the population is more than 5,000, bylaws will have to be created, which must allow for: three to four units permitted on lots currently zoned for single-family or duplex use, depending on lot size; and six units permitted on larger lots currently zoned for single-family or duplex use and close to transit stops with frequent service.

Mayor Mike Richman said Pemberton is likely to reach a population of 5,000 in the near future, and council should plan accordingly.  The village’s population grew from 2,574 in the 2016 census to 3,407 in 2021.

“There were four or five bills put out in the space of a few weeks, starting with the one on short-term rentals,” said Richman. “Family properties in the province are now blanket-zoned for secondary suites no matter where you are. The third legislation was applied to towns of 5,000 and up. All single-family neighbourhoods can now accommodate duplexes, triplexes, and if there is space, a fourplex. What does this mean for us? What will it look like?

“We are going to be over 5,000 within 10 minutes,” he added. “Do we look ahead? Do we look at applying some of [the new legislation] now?”

In considering how Pemberton might change in the coming years, Councillor Katrina Nightingale said the time to act is now. 

“We are going to be 5,000 really soon,” she said. “The question is why wouldn’t we be proactive while we can? Let’s start making changes now as we are going to have to do it anyway.”

As the town’s population grows, there is also the potential for losing green spaces in the village—but council stressed it is important to retain the things that make Pemberton, Pemberton.

“I feel like this will affect those big sub-area plans and how those will develop. Density is not bad. It’s really good depending on where it is,” Nightingale said.

“If we imagine at 5,000, every single-family home could be a fourplex—not saying this would actually be the case, as a single-family home is still a desirable thing for some people—[but] it does impact green space and parks. We have to look at the ratio of our density to green space.”

Staff said more information on the housing legislation is coming in a manual from the province, and indicated they would report back to council in the new year.