Proponents stalling GEMS school, SLRD says 

The biggest obstacle to the Pemberton GEMS school moving forward appears to be the proponents themselves.

That's according to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which last week was blamed for a prolonged zoning process that has not moved the proposed independent private school beyond the application phase.

In a news release handed to Sea to Sky media May 4, Ian Rysdale, GEMS' senior director for pre-operations, said the company was "disappointed" at the slow pace of the school's movement through the regional district's zoning process and the opposition it has faced from the board.

But it's because the proponents are withholding the school application that it hasn't progressed through the SLRD approval process.

In an interview in his office last Saturday, SLRD administrator Paul Edgington said the regional district stopped processing the school's zoning application at a request from Andrew Beaird in an e-mail on Oct. 14, 2009.

In a message copied to Steve Olmstead, the SLRD's manager of planning and development services, Beaird on behalf of the proponents asked the GEMS school not be moved through the zoning process.

"I am requesting we not advance the draft bylaw for this month's board meeting," he wrote. "We will be drafting for your records a letter that details the current assumptions and intent moving forward. We believe amidst many different yet related considerations that a more comprehensive planning process will allow for more effective consultation, planning and design process."

Rysdale said in his release last week the "greater project appears to be opposed by the SLRD board which is, in itself, very disappointing. The success of a school in this location is largely dependent on the proposed recreation, residential development and the projected growth of the region as indicated in our feasibility study."

He was talking about the Sunstone Ridge development, a 400-hectare conflation of three properties on Pemberton's Hillside area. The property is jointly owned by Ravens Crest Developents Ltd. (81 hectares), the Sabre/Biro Group (36 hectares) and Lil'wat Properties Inc. (168 hectares). The developers have a vision for single-family homes, multi-family townhouses, neighbourhood commercial property and a recreational complex. A SLRD staff report from Dec. 3, 2009 indicates the developers consider the school part of the development.

Edgington learned of the developer's intention to withhold the application when he came back to work after Christmas. By that time the Agricultural Land Commission had approved a non-farm use application to put the school on a semi-agricultural property and GEMS looked good to go. He was taken aback when he discovered the developers wanted to wait.

"It was really quite a surprise to me to learn from my staff that, with no fanfare, we've been asked to put off processing it and not move the bylaws forward in October, when we intended to," he said. "I know that my staff had done a great deal of work to get that done in such a timely fashion given everything we were recovering from after the summer.

"To be under so much pressure to move something forward and then with absolutely no fanfare, just stop, and then to see another story, because we're not approving the (neighbourhood concept plan) the whole school is in jeopardy, it causes me to scratch my head and wonder what's up."

Cam McIvor, the Pemberton-based president of Ravens Crest Developments, said Edgington took Beaird's e-mail out of context.

He said the proponents of Sunstone Ridge made a mutual agreement with Olmstead to move the applications forward concurrently, and that they did this because the "pace of progression of school approvals" wound up aligning with Sunstone Ridge's application for a neighbourhood concept plan.

McIvor pointed out in an e-mail that the school's rezoning and non-farm use application was first submitted to the SLRD in June 2008. The board approved the application to be sent to the Agricultural Land Commission in April of 2009.

The neighbourhood concept plan has since encountered a wall each time it's come to the regional board table.

The news release from GEMS and McIvor's admission that the lack of movement on Sunstone Ridge could jeopardize the school has soured relations somewhat between the developers and the SLRD. Edgington said in an interview that he was surprised to see last week's story when the developers asked that both applications be moved together.

It also came as a surprise to Mayor Jordan Sturdy, a fervent supporter of the school, who said he didn't know until now that the school depended on residential development.

"That is very disappointing to hear," he said. "I was not of the belief that the school was dependent on residential development. That was not my understanding."

The school could, technically, move through the zoning phases on its own, but the developers don't seem to want that. Asked what's more important to him, the school or the housing development, McIvor didn't say either one.

"Ravens Crest has always maintained that the school is good for Pemberton and it is an economic driver," he said. "And when you have an economic driver, it will increase demand for housing."



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