Sparks flew at the Nov. 24 meeting of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District as directors debated a proposed subdivision in the Upper Squamish Valley.
A SLRD staff recommendation asked the board to support an application that would subdivide a 60-acre property along the Squamish Valley Road northwest of the District of Squamish. The parcel is currently a rural residential property with a hobby farm and campgrounds in the area. It also has a 100-square-foot cabin on the property.
The property, owned by Squamish resident Pennie McNutt, lies within the Agricultural Land Reserve, an area where agriculture is a priority use. Landowners within this area must apply to the ALC if they wish to divide the land, and McNutt hopes to divide hers into a 45-acre and a 15-acre parcel.
Monday’s meeting was, in fact, the second time that the proposal has gone before the board.
SLRD staff recommended in September that the board vote against the application, something it can do in only two situations: if the application applies to land meant for agricultural use and if it requires an amendment to an Official Community Plan in order to move forward.
However SLRD Planning Technician Tracy Napier later wrote in a Nov. 13 staff report that the property is unzoned and the proposal does not require any amendments to the OCP for Electoral Area D, where it’s located.
The recommendation nevertheless touched off a hot debate between directors who supported the application and others concerned that farming properties are being turned into real estate.
Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, who sits on the board as a director, counts himself among the latter group. He tried to delay a decision on the application to a later date but other directors disagreed.
“We’re hearing representation from some of the directors that this is about farming,” he said. “We’re seeing estate properties being subdivided off the ALR, they call it a farm, but it’s an estate property with a big house. It’s not farmed.”
Outgoing Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, who was sitting in his last meeting as a SLRD director, challenged Melamed and said that the application should be dealt with immediately.
“We have to be aware of people’s circumstances and (decide) things in a relatively timely manner,” he said, adding that the board couldn’t put off a decision based on “whatever reason we’re giving this week.”
Melamed, however, expressed concern that farming areas throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor are being turned into housing.
“We’ve seen it in the Pemberton Valley, we’ve seen it in Squamish, people are looking for lot real estate development because they can build large houses,” he said. “They can build multiple houses on these properties and they can build secessional houses. We’re seeing real estate development, not farming.”
Pemberton Mayor-elect Jordan Sturdy, a farmer himself, supported the application and said the proposed subdivision provided adequate opportunity for farming.
“I’m not one of the people who says the bigger the better, necessarily,” he said. “I think there is opportunity for farming smaller areas, and 15 acres is a reasonable size.”
Sturdy added, however, that it’s ultimately up to the ALC to decide whether to subdivide the property.
The SLRD board ultimately decided to support the staff recommendation, with Melamed and Area B director Mickey Macri voting against.
This isn’t the first time that Melamed has raised concerns about farmland in the Sea to Sky corridor.
He and Sturdy exchanged words in August over the GEMS school project, an international private school that’s being proposed for a property in Pemberton’s “Hillside” area that has some land in the ALR.
Melamed said at the time that “trends of gentrification” are taking place in the Pemberton Valley and that people with no interest in agriculture are buying up farm properties there. That was firmly rebutted by Sturdy, who said that only two subdivisions in the ALR had come forward in Pemberton within the past 10 years, and both were turned down.
The GEMS school also came up for debate as a motion was brought forward to defer a decision on the school until all directors had seen its planned site.
The school was the subject of a presentation by proponent Cam McIvor at October’s board meeting. At the time the board was discussing a motion that asked directors not to support the school’s application for non-farm use to the ALC.
The school is planned for a property that lies within the ALR, but the agricultural capability of that land has been the subject of much debate.
The board ultimately decided to defer it to a month later to allow directors to view the site personally.
One month after that meeting, only two directors have seen the site — Sturdy and SLRD Chair Russ Oakley.
“I think it’s important that the board get there sooner rather
than later before it’s buried in three feet of snow,” Sturdy said.
He expressed disappointment in a Tuesday interview that only two of the nine directors had seen the site.
Directors ultimately set Dec. 15 as a date to see the proposed GEMS site. That’s a day before the first meeting of the new board, which will see three new directors assume seats on the board.
Sutherland and Squamish Councillor Raj Kahlon did not run in November’s election and will no longer be sitting on the board. Neither will Lillooet Mayor Christ’l Roshard, who was defeated in the District of Lillooet’s municipal election.
The Nov. 24 meeting was their last.