Region’s growth strategy faces challenging timeline 

Concerns abound over the tight timeline the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has set to complete its Regional Growth Strategy.

"The timing is going to be tough," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly at this week’s monthly SLRD board meeting in Pemberton.

Within the next year, the strategy should outline a common vision for the region as well as a set of economic, social and environmental goals.

It will be a key document for Whistler and its neighbouring communities in light of the tremendous pressure for growth in the region.

Member communities are also facing pressure from the development associated with the 2010 Olympics, and the declining employment and economic transition in the northern parts of the region.

The $600,000 project has long been on the books and now the regional directors are keen to have it completed by the end of this session in November 2005.

The proposed timeline, which was presented and approved at Monday’s meeting, calls for the comprehensive growth plan to be in its draft form and ready for review by May 2005.

This will allow the plan to go through the mandatory 120-day referral by local governments in the district and to be ready for adoption before the end of November.

"It seems to me that we’ve cut ourselves off by four months," said O’Reilly.

Whistler’s own growth management plan has been more than two years in the making and is still only in its draft form.

SLRD Administrator Paul Edgington explained that by law the region can’t waive the 120 day review because it is a legislated referral period.

O’Reilly suggested that the SLRD inform the member municipalities of the tight schedule and ask them to voluntary review the plan within 30 days.

"I think my council is going to be really involved in this," said O’Reilly.

"I expect a lot of participation… I think people are ready for it."

The RGS timeline states that the key priorities, the goals and the vision must be developed by October.

This will be followed by two months of work based on reviewing the key priorities, as well as developing a set of growth management options.

In early 2005 the work will focus on selecting and developing a preferred option, which will lead into the development of the draft plan by May.

Steven Olmstead, the SLRD’s manager of planning and development, said staff are well aware of the project’s compressed timeline.

He said everyone is working very hard at this point to stick with the schedule, but the difficulty will lie with asking other consultants and stakeholders to keep up with the fast pace.

Olmstead called the project a "big challenge."

Board Chair Susan Gimse reiterated at Monday’s meeting that she wants to ensure there are checks and balances throughout the project’s development.

Edgington assured her that the board would get regular updates to make sure the project stays on target.

The public will also have an opportunity to add input to the plan.

Among other things there will be a Regional Ideas Symposium in September, which will give elected officials and agencies the chance to share their ideas for consideration in the plan.

Shortly after there will be a series of public engagement workshops throughout the district bringing together residents and community representatives.

An online survey, which will also be available in hard copy, will allow residents to vote and provide feedback on the RGS options.

The region is planning to develop a First Nations consultation program as well.

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