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Public hearing held for Pemberton’s Nkwúkwma development

Council deferred a decision to May 28 after hearing concerns on the 450-unit housing project
A rendering of the proposed Benchlands development in Pemberton.

Residents’ concerns over traffic, infrastructure strain, environmental disturbance and population growth were heard loud and clear at a public hearing for the Nkwúkwma (Benchlands) development in Pemberton on May 14.

Nkwúkwma is a 450-unit housing proposal Skénkenam Development Limited Partnership, a partnership between the Lil’wat Nation’s Lil’wat Capital Assets and the Pemberton Benchlands Development Corporation. It’s currently before council for rezoning from residential to a comprehensive development zone. During a public hearing, residents voiced their concerns before the development went to a special council meeting, where council could have given the rezoning third reading for approval. However, council decided to defer the decision until May 28 to consider the feedback.

Nkwúkwma concerns

While many residents appreciated the mix of housing proposed for Nkwúkwm, the biggest concern came from the potential dangers imposed from having one access route to the neighbourhood in case of emergencies like wildfires.

Niki Vankerk wrote that while there have been studies on traffic done for the egress on Eagle Drive, the sheer number of residents in the area could be disastrous if an evacuation needs to take place from wildfires, alongside the increased traffic competing against Signal Hill students leaving for the day. She also highlighted Pemberton’s recently approved10 per cent tax increase this year, which will be used to shore up aging infrastructure, and questioned how the development would further strain taxpayers, among other concerns.

Resident Lee Anne Patterson wrote that the 15 per cent affordable housing should be increased to a higher percentage, and the $1.8 million recreation amenity contribution wasn’t a big enough benefit to offset the environmental costs.

“[It] seems like a very small benefit to the community given the massive loss of nature and high-value mountain bike/hiking trails in the area,” she wrote. “Let’s not pave over paradise, or at least if we’re doing that, let’s get a meaningful amount of price-controlled, affordable housing.”

Patterson also noted the approval of a sub area plan for Nkwúkwma before the Official Community Plan (OCP) review is complete wouldn’t properly reflect what Pembertonians want for the community moving forward.

Vankerk echoed Patterson’s concerns around moving forward with the development before a full review of the OCP.

“This is the largest housing proposal we have seen in Pemberton and the sub area plan is based on a 10-plus-years-old idea of what the Pemberton community wants. We have started a full OCP review because Council and staff recognize that things have changed; the economic environment, thoughts on reconciliation and many actual community members have changed,” she wrote.

“The full OCP review will give the current Pemberton community and businesses a chance to give their opinions, ideas and vision for the community. If we move ahead without the benefits of the full review, we will be making a decision that can’t be walked back if later the full review reveals that we have concerns about this area.”

Council paused the OCP review process in September 2023 to foster a more collaborative relationship with the  Lil’wat Nation, gain a deeper understanding of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and renew a protocol agreement with the Nation.

Other letters highlighted the expense of developing properties on a hillside, and questioned whether the average Pembertonian would be able to afford homes in the development. Further issues raised were around the school’s capacity, strain on the health-care system, and water supply.

Planner Cameron Chalmers noted if the rezoning plans aren’t approved, the area is still zoned for residential housing and the neighbourhood could end up seeing only single-family homes built on the hillside.

“The question of whether or not the land will be developed is not the content of this file,” he said. “The lands can be developed today; they can be developed today without additional council approval. So, the question before council today is does council want to see the land developed under current entitlement and current zonings, or under the sub area plan entitlement?”

Staff have recommended council proceed because of the affordable housing proposed, as well as the diversity of housing options, with townhomes, apartment units, carriage homes and single-residential lots, and the potential for a $1.8-million recreation facility. An active transportation spine is also included in the project’s plans, as are commercial zones.

Decision deferred

After the public hearing, council opened a special council meeting and discussed whether they needed more time to consider residents’ concerns, noting that if a decision was deferred, they wouldn’t be able to receive any more feedback during that time or have any conversations about it before coming to council again.

Councillors disagreed about what would be gained by waiting longer to decide.

Councillor Laura Ramsden said considering the level of feedback and the significance the development would have on the community, it would be respectful to take time to sit with comments before making a final decision.

Coun. Jennie Helmer stressed residents’ messages have been loud and clear, but waiting any longer to decide wouldn’t change what she’s been hearing.

“I am hearing loud and clear that this isn't the right time for it and it's not something that the community wants us to proceed with,” Helmer said. “Whether it's tonight or it's in a week, I think for me it's not going to change where I sit.”

Coun. Ted Craddock agreed more time wouldn’t change his views, and while he expressed displeasure that there isn’t a feasible secondary road option according to existing studies, if council doesn’t approve the rezoning on the table, the other option falls to single-family lots.

Coun. Katrina Nightingale stressed the decision shouldn’t come before a full OCP review and the development must be considered within the context of all of Pemberton.

Council will next consider the rezoning on May 28.