Regional growth strategy looks to the future 

Mixed reactions to long term plans for SLRD

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) is deep into consultations for its Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), a bylaw that, if passed, will direct its work for years to come.

Initiated in 2003, the RGS came as the SLRD realized the region was facing new challenges and opportunities due to a number of factors: among them, the impact of the upcoming 2010 Games, as well as declining employment and a desire for economic recovery in the northern part of the region.

If it passes, the RGS will serve as a policy framework that will direct many of the SLRD’s initiatives from there on in.

“Assuming the bylaw gets adopted, after adoption, the regional district's actions from that point forward have to be consistent with the growth strategy,” said Paul Edgington, chief administrative officer with the SLRD.

Today, the RGS is going through a consultation period which includes meetings in all impacted communities: the District of Squamish, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Village of Pemberton, the District of Lillooet, as well as seven adjacent rural districts.

The most recent open house took place on July 15 in Lillooet. And reactions at the open houses, according to Edgington, have been mixed.

“On particular issues there were some people in the Squamish area that took exception to some things, primarily with process,” he said. “In Whistler the response was light, four people attended the meeting.”

The RGS lays out an extensive vision for how to promote sustainable development and services, as well as recognize a “long term responsibility” for the quality of life for future generations, according to the bylaw.

It projects that population in the Sea to Sky corridor will double, from 35,141 residents in 2003 to 68,153 residents in 2031. It also projects that the mix of age groups within that population will experience a large shift, with 35-40 year olds expected to make up a significant portion of the population among both males and females.

Chief among the strategy’s priorities is to focus development into “compact, complete, sustainable communities.”

That means making more efficient use of land with higher population densities by providing more transportation choices, protecting agriculture and open spaces, as well as an opportunity to live and work in the same community, according to the bylaw.

“The strategy has nine goals that talk about development,” Edgington said. “What people can look forward to is that those goals have underlying objectives and underlying the objectives they have some strategic directions.”

Creating more compact and sustainable communities also means providing for a mix of land uses in community development in order to create more “integrated and complete communities.” The focus for this goal are areas such as Porteau Cove, Furry Creek and Britannia Beach.

Part of creating more compact communities is adding and enhancing their transportation options, according to the report. The second goal of the RGS is to “Improve Transportation Linkages and Options,” and it commits the SLRD to support an improved regional transportation system to help sustain the compact communities it envisions.

That system, according to the bylaw, will “minimize auto-dependency” where possible and the SLRD will support the development of a “regional transit system” integrated with land uses and other transportation modes that will be financially sustainable.

Before the bylaw receives third reading, it must be reviewed by all affected municipalities as well as the adjacent regional districts, according to Edgington. They can then, within 120 days of receipt, either accept the RGS or indicate that they refuse to accept it.

That’s where it stands now, about two and a half weeks into the 120 days, according to Edgington.

“It really depends on what people say,” he said. “If all of those local governments say they accept it, that’s the last significant hurdle.”

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