The July 28 meeting of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District
became a showcase for the difference of opinion the mayors of Whistler and
Pemberton have on the proposed GEMS school.
The difference became apparent during discussion of a motion to
rezone a portion of Ravens Crest, a 287-acre property where proponents expect
to locate the school. A portion of the property rests on provincial
Agricultural Land Reserve lands, where agriculture is recognized as a priority
Cam McIvor, a proponent of the GEMS school proposal, submitted
an application for non-farm use in early June that was later reviewed by SLRD
Electoral Area C’s Agricultural Advisory Committee.
The application was a necessary measure, according to the
Agricultural Land Commission, which administers land use, as Section 3 of the
Agricultural Land Reserve Use, Subdivision, and Procedure Regulation says that
schools under the B.C. School Act are not allowed in the ALR.
McIvor later submitted another application to rezone the
property, which is classified as “Agriculture” under the Electoral Area C
Zoning Bylaw 765, 2002 — it’s an area where schools are not permitted.
The rezoning application is targeting 39 acres on the Ravens
Crest property, 18 of which have a “relatively poor” agricultural capability
rating, according to a SLRD report.
21 acres are believed to have excessive water and require
draining and 11 acres have “excessive stoniness” and areas where only hay and
forage could be grown. Another seven acres are “stony outcrop” with no
agricultural potential, according to the report.
Though he did not take a position on the GEMS school proposal,
Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, who also serves as a director on the board of the
SLRD, expressed concern that developments like the school, which would be a
private institution, could increase the perceived “lack of affordability and
availability of properties” in the Pemberton Valley.
“The property values are increasing, and the question was, is a
proposal like GEMS going to further contribute to those price pressures and
make it more challenging to get affordable housing?” he said in an interview
Melamed also brought up issues related to the use of
agricultural land in the Pemberton Valley, saying that “trends of
gentrification” are taking place and that people who are “not interested in
farming” are purchasing farm properties there.
“I was suggesting that there could potentially be a connection
in the trends that are going on in terms of bringing a more upscale clientele
into the Pemberton Valley, and the impact that might have on the working
farms,” he said.
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, who supports the idea of having
a GEMS school in Pemberton, firmly denied Melamed’s claims about
“Mayor Melamed… suggested that there were applications and
exclusions from the ALR up and down the valley, and that is just patently
false,” he said. “I can think of two applications that have come forward in the
last 10 years, and neither of them have been approved.”
One of those applications was for a property at 7476 Prospect
that was only recently forwarded to the ALC for consideration. Another was for
a property on Urdal Road, an application that would have added 25 hectares to
the ALR and removed five hectares, but the SLRD’s Agricultural Advisory
Committee recommended against it.
As for the GEMS school, Sturdy supports it because it’s a
business opportunity that can benefit Pemberton residents.
“The school proposal is an excellent opportunity for
Pemberton,” he said. “That’s the type of industry we would like to attract to
our community. It’s knowledge-based, it’s clean.
“We believe in smart growth and we believe in the concept of
live, work, play in your community, and this is a type of employment, and the
type of business opportunity that can benefit our community.”
Sturdy did, however, specify that it’s up to community members
to decide whether or not they want the school.
Melamed also told
he found it “interesting” that the mayor of the Village of Pemberton is the
“strongest proponent” of the GEMS school, even though it does not fall within
the VOP’s boundaries.
That’s a situation that could change, however, if an existing
proposal to expand the VOP’s boundaries goes through — if it does, it
will include the Ravens Crest property, along with several others.
Sturdy, meanwhile, said he takes exception when people who have
“little stake” in the Pemberton Valley make “broad” statements or decisions
that he said affect the lives of people in the community in a significant way.
“Ultimately what it comes down to is it’s a decision for the residents of the Pemberton Valley to make, in my view,” he said. “We want to be in a position to not have to rely on Whistler for our employment.”