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Melamed still has concerns about GEMS school

Whistler mayor warns of pressure on Pemberton housing prices

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed is standing fast on his concerns about the impacts a GEMS school in Pemberton could have on housing prices.

Melamed, also a director representing Whistler on the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, brought his concerns forward to a regular board meeting on Aug. 24 as it considered a bylaw that would stimulate consultations with various stakeholder groups about the proposed school, slated for the Ravens Crest property about three kilometres from the village.

Directors were looking at bringing forward consultations in advance of a bylaw that the board will consider in October. The GEMS school site is currently zoned as "Agriculture" under the district's Area C Official Community Plan and would have to be rezoned in order to allow the school to be situated there.

Recapping the meeting in an interview with Pique , Melamed said he's concerned about numerous factors with regard to the GEMS school, among them housing prices and how the school could impact them. He said Pemberton is experiencing what's known as "down valley syndrome," where housing prices in a ski resort like Whistler impact the prices in nearby communities, in this case Pemberton and Squamish.

"It's something that has been observed in other successful resorts across the world," Melamed said. "More specifically, the ones we've studied the most are at Aspen and Vail, Park City where due to the rising real estate prices in resort towns, it kind of spreads like a domino effect down the valley."

The school, he contends, could further exacerbate the real estate values in Pemberton.

"The issue exists with or without the GEMS school, in my view," Melamed said. "The school just accelerates the demand or the need.

"You are, by definition, increasing demand because you'd have more people working there. ...It's reasonable to assume kids in Grade 12 will be looking to reside off campus. Certainly some of the kids in our Grade 12 have already decided to move out of the house."

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy admitted it's possible that the school could impact affordability in Pemberton but he said it's a "really difficult line to draw" between building the school and the price of real estate.

He said the Village of Pemberton is committed to looking at affordable housing options within the community through developments such as Signal Hill Homes, which will put about 1,000 units in town, though it's not certain that all of them can be considered affordable housing.

Pemberton will also receive five per cent of developable lands in its Benchlands neighbourhood and that could be set aside for affordable housing.

"Both of these developments could have an impact on the supply of affordable housing in the Pemberton Valley," Sturdy said.

Beyond that, the Village of Pemberton is currently in the midst of drafting an affordable housing strategy that will look at ways to increase affordability within the valley. Sturdy added the village hasn't yet figured out how affordable housing would be administered.

Besides his concerns about housing, Melamed is also concerned that a bylaw is being considered at the same time as a boundary expansion that could bring the Ravens Crest site into village boundaries.

During last year's municipal elections, a majority of voters chose to incorporate 20 new areas into Pemberton's boundaries, among them the Ravens Crest site, which lies adjacent to the Pemberton Hillside area and served as the site for the 2008 Pemberton Festival.

The decision on whether the village boundaries will expand now lies in the hands of the provincial government, which has to approve it through an Order-in-Council at the cabinet table.

If a boundary expansion were to bring the Ravens Crest site within the village, because a bylaw is already being considered at the district level, responsibility for rezoning the property would defer to the village.

Sturdy responded that planning for the Ravens Crest area should be happening at the village right now and wishes that boundary expansion had gone through already.

"The sooner it gets into the village level the better," he said.

Asked what would happen if a boundary expansion happened as the district is already considering a rezoning, Paul Edgington, Chief Administrative Officer for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, said Pemberton would adopt the SLRD's zoning if the expansion went through.

If the bylaw was still in process, Edgington said the province may have to make some decisions as to what they want to see done to finish the bylaw.

"It might simply be the Village of Pemberton would take over the process," he said. "That's a bridge we would cross at that time."