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GEMS deferred… again

SLRD supports school in principle

For the third time in as many months, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has deferred judgment on a GEMS school in Pemberton.

The regional board put off a motion at its Dec. 16 meeting that would have sent a non-farm use application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for the school’s proposed site at Pemberton’s Ravens Crest property.

The proposed motion would have seen the board to send the application to the ALC with a recommendation of non-support because it conflicted with agriculture policies in SLRD Area C’s Official Community Plan (OCP). The motion also said that “non-agricultural sites” should be considered when recreational, institutional, industrial or commercial uses are being proposed for agricultural areas.

Despite the delay in dealing with the motion, GEMS proponent Cam McIvor isn’t fazed.

“The deferments aren’t the biggest issue,” he said in an interview. “Time can be an enemy of business at times, but I think right now we’re still tracking to be able to deliver some answers, so hopefully we can get moving a little quicker soon.”

The board deferred the motion for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that directors want the project’s proponents to see if other sites can be considered for the school, given that the current proposal places the school on agricultural land.

Area C director Susie Gimse put forward a resolution that further consideration of the proposal be deferred until proponents viewed alternate sites. She said the ALC won’t even look at the current non-farm use application until that’s been done.

The resolution was welcomed by Steve Olmstead, the SLRD’s director of planning and development, who said his department would support looking at other sites.

“One of our principal concerns, and we think that it actually strengthened the application, was a study of alternative sites,” he said at the meeting. “That’s my primary concern with the application as it has been presented at this point.”

At the same time, not all SLRD directors have actually had a chance to see the site. The board first deferred the motion at its October meeting until all directors toured the site.

Five of nine directors have seen the site: Gimse, Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, Area A director Russ Oakley and Area B director Mickey Macri.

Three directors had their first board meeting on Tuesday and haven’t yet had a chance to see the site: Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner and Councillor Patricia Heintzman and Lillooet Mayor Dennis Bontron.

The next step for GEMS is to arrange tours of the site for the remaining directors that haven’t seen it and have some consultants look at available land in the Pemberton Valley to see where a school would be suitable, according to McIvor.

As for timelines, he said that GEMS is keen on Pemberton and that the international company is looking to start marketing a school around the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

“In our last meeting with GEMS they were keen to have something on the ground and do some marketing around the Games,” McIvor said. “Our goal in the community I think should be just to be as expeditious as possible so that they keep their focus and energy up on the project.”

Though the board has yet to bring GEMS to the ALC’s attention, the SLRD nevertheless approved the school in principle at its Dec. 16 meeting.