Debate gets heated over future of Lil'wat lands 

SLRD directors vote against staff recommendations over future of 187 hectares

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Discussion became heated on Oct. 22 as the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board of directors debated the future of a large parcel of land adjacent to the Village of Pemberton.

The SLRD board rejected its own staff recommendation that the board refuse to accept a regional context statement (RCS) from the Village of Pemberton (VOP) to re-designate 187 hectares, called Parcel #4.

Parcel #4 belongs to the Lil'wat Nation and came within the VOP boundary after the village extended its regional boundary in 2011.

SLRD staff felt the VOP's regional context statement, which sought to have the property declared a "Future Growth Node" to allow for potential development, would negatively impact the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), which came into effect in June 2010, by remaining "inconsistent with RGS mapping and policies."

According to the SLRD submission, after the RCS was presented to the SLRD on Apr. 30, 2012, "the Village of Pemberton has changed their regional context statement twice by way of OCP amendments to address mapping errors, and a third time 'unofficially' by changing the 'urban growth node' designation to 'future growth node.'"

Lynda Flynn, the SLRD's chief administrative officer, gave the chronology of negotiations to directors, saying there had been "numerous consultations" and that "the position of the SLRD has not changed since the initial report."

Staff had also recommended that the VOP RCS be referred to the provincial Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development for future direction. This, too, was rejected.

Instead, the VOP's RCS — which was the third of three options presented by SLRD staff — was accepted by the board and referred to the Regional Growth Strategy Steering Committee for review with respect to the major-minor amendment process.

Parcel #4 was presented to the Lil'wat Nation as part of the land exchange initiated by the provincial government to support the extension of the Sea to Sky Highway prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics. The land was given to the Lil'wat Nation with no development rights attached.

The VOP sought to have the massive hillside property, located northeast of the village roughly between Pemberton and the village's Industrial Park, changed to "Future Growth Node" status, opening up potential development options.

The SLRD's Director of Planning and Development Kim Needham presented the recommendation and said this was the first time the RGS had been tested since it was adopted in 2010. She added that it was originally thought that development would take place under the aegis of SLRD Area C, which was its jurisdiction before 2011.

"It's a significant amount of land and that is why recommendation from staff is the refusal to accept it — because it is 462 acres of land and would be potentially precedent setting in the region and could leave us vulnerable to other sets of considerations that would perhaps cause significant deviation from the intent of the RGS," Needham said.

Needham suggested that revisiting the RGS in 2015 as scheduled might provide a more appropriate time to reopen development discussions. This, too, was dismissed.

Three options for resolving the issue were presented by Needham, with SLRD staff recommending the adoption of the first. Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy encouraged the board to adopt the third, which they eventually did.

Sturdy said Parcel #4's positioning between other subdivisions and the industrial park — and the fact that it was on a hillside and not agricultural land — made it ideal for reallocation as a Future Growth Node. The need to consider this was great, he said, as he foresaw the village growing by up to 10,000 people over the next two decades.

He said development of Parcel #4 would represent a "couple of hundred units, at best, over 20 years." He emphasized that the land would not be going into development at this time.

"We need a comprehensive plan for the whole site," Sturdy said. "This is one of the few development opportunities in Pemberton."

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