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Whistler, Pemberton mayors don’t see eye to eye on GEMS

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 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 use.

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 with Pique .

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 gentrification.

“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 Pique 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.”




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