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Still no agreement on Regional Growth Strategy

Pemberton votes to send RGS to arbitration; Squamish invites Whistler to meeting

Agreement among corridor communities on the long-debated Regional Growth Strategy remains elusive, but the District of Squamish has invited Mayor Ken Melamed and Administrator Bill Barratt to a meeting next week.

Whistler council held a workshop on the RGS this week, but did not make a decision on how to proceed. Melamed is believed to favour taking the RGS to arbitration to bring resolution to an impasse that has dragged on for a year. Several other members of Whistler council, however, favour a negotiated settlement.

Meanwhile, the Village of Pemberton this week voted to send the RGS to arbitration.

The Squamish Lillooet Regional District board had previously voted to send the RGS to arbitration. Pemberton's decision was merely a show of support.

For the RGS to go to arbitration the District of Squamish would still have to vote in favour.

Implementation of the RGS, which is intended to focus development into compact, sustainable communities, came to a halt in October of 2008 when the District of Squamish felt not enough consultation had been done.

Squamish, and others, feel adopting the RGS could erode municipal autonomy. Major amendments to the strategy, such as the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish resort or the proposed GEMS private school in Pemberton, may require the approval of neighbouring communities under terms of the RGS.

The implications are magnified when the individual towns are examined. Whistler has reached buildout while Squamish and Pemberton are anticipating considerable growth in the years to come.

Pemberton's decision this week in favour of arbitration to settle the RGS dispute was an about-face. Previously Pemberton had favoured a non-binding dispute resolution process.

The arbitration process would involve each community bringing forward options and an arbitrator deciding on a solution.

Councillor Al LeBlanc was the sole dissenting vote in Pemberton against going to arbitration. He was concerned that the village didn't know what options other communities would bring forward as part of the arbitration process.

Councillor Susie Gimse, who doubles as Director of Area C for the SLRD, said that based on the most recent SLRD board meeting all the member communities support moving forward with arbitration.

"It seemed clear at the board meeting that all of the communities supported moving forward with the amendment put forward by the regional district," she said. "Except for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, but they had not yet dealt with it as a council."

The SLRD has proposed that all communities draw up Regional Context Statements that would identify the relationships between their Official Community Plans and the RGS. Municipalities would also be required to consult with the regional district whenever they wish to amend their OCPs.


Pemberton reconsiders amenity policy

Pemberton council approved a notice of motion to reconsider the village's Community Amenity Policy, which was passed by the previous council to address the burden that residential developments place on demand for public facilities, services and amenities.

Currently the policy applies to proponents of rezoning applications that have a residential component of more than three units, or single lots. Proponents are charged $9,165 per building lot and $6,134 for every multi-family dwelling like a townhouse.

The charges have not been applied to any developments in Pemberton's history until Signal Hill Homes, a massive development planned for a property just outside the downtown core, which has been able to avoid the charge because it's agreed to contribute money towards the improvement of a unsafe dyke that runs along the property.

Councillor Lisa Ames brought forward the motion to revisit the Community Amenity Policy because she feels it doesn't work.

"It's not well structured, it's difficult to enforce and doesn't appear to be equitable to make it a level playing field for everyone that's wanting to subdivide or rezone," she said. "We need to work on finding other resolutions to get our amenities in town."

As such she's hoping the Village can look into options such as a Density Bonusing Bylaw as part of its Official Community Plan review, which started its public engagement process at the Village's town hall meeting last June. Density Bonusing in some cases will allow a developer to build more floor space when they agree to provide a community amenity.