Pemberton Benchlands "preferred land use" plan presented 

Mixed housing, green space, smaller lots among key components

Land use potential for the 100 hectare parcel of Pemberton known as the Benchlands is one step closer to being defined.

Ekistics, a Vancouver-based planning firm, has developed a "preferred land use" proposal taking into consideration the various concerns that were voiced at two previous community meetings held earlier this year.

The resulting plan calls for a mixed housing neighbourhood with a high percentage of both natural and planned green space, a civic commons, space for small retail amenities such as convenience stores and a future elementary school. At maximum build out, the proposal allows for between 500 to 550 housing units serving up to 1,800 residents.

The density will be approximately 10 units per hectare (approximately five per acre) on the approximately 55 hectares of the rocky terrain suitable for building. The plan takes into account the 54 homes that have been built or are currently under construction on the Benchlands.

The proposal calls for 88 per cent of the homes to be single-family units, with lot sizing varying from "compact" to "estate". Lot size refers primarily to building lot width in the plan that calls for lane-accessed garages to create a "walking neighbouhood".

The compact lots will have 10-metre (33 ft.) frontages. The estate lots will have 30-metre frontages, typical of the current lots in Pemberton’s "Vinyl Village" subdivision. The small, medium and large single-family home lots will vary.

Paul Fenske, Ekistics’ urban designer, pointed out that one of Canada’s most successful neighbourhoods, Kitsilano, is comprised of homes built on 33 ft. lots.

"What we found in reviewing comments is that people wanted more affordable options," said Fenske. "But they didn’t want more townhouses in Pemberton."

The plan currently allows for only 12 per cent of the housing units to be multi-family dwellings. The planners assume that smaller lot sizes, supporting smaller detached houses, will address the issue of affordability. The geography of the area, which has a step-like feel, combined with the planned green spaces, will serve to alleviate the crowded feel associated with higher density neighbourhoods.

About 40 people, including Village of Pemberton staff, council members and the Neighbourhood Steering Committee, attended the May 26 meeting. A number of people raised concerns about the effect than an additional 1,800 people would have on the community’s existing infrastructure. The population figure cited in Ekistics plan takes into consideration that between 60 and 75 per cent of the homes will likely have suites.

"We’re not advocating having suites, we’re just saying that it’s a reality in Pemberton. People need the revenue to pay their mortgages," said Fenske.

Fenske cited traffic studies that showed that the community’s infrastructure would feel minimal impact from the increased population. The only change that might be needed is an advance left turn arrow added to the traffic light that leads into town off Highway 99.

The designer was also emphatic that the plan was not a development plan, but a guide that showed useable land, how to integrate amenities and the best possible roadways for the area. He also pointed out that the potential 550 units would not be built immediately, but over 10 to 20 years.

Ekistics, a company that derives its name from the Greek word for "home", has developed similar community plans in Okanogan and the Lower Mainland.

The Benchlands plan will be refined in the next two months. Drafts of both the plan and the corresponding VOP adopting bylaw will be reviewed at a public hearing scheduled to happen before the end of September. The process should conclude by October.

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