SLRD to consider expansion of Green River Estates 

Mayor fails to stall decision on fringe development rezoning

By Cindy Flipenko

Despite an impassioned argument, Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed failed Monday to convince fellow Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) board members to halt Green River Estates’ request for re-zoning.

Proponents of the housing development, located just north of Wedgemount and outside Whistler’s municipal boundaries, are seeking to increase its number of lots from 64 to 108.

The zoning change, which still has to come to the board in the form of bylaws, would represent an increase in the developer’s gift to Electoral Area C from $1.3 million to $2.49 million. The money, donated by the developer as a gesture of being "a good corporate citizen" would go to offset costs for recreation amenities.

Green River Estates has already fallen under criticism for its plan to build an onsite sewage treatment plant that would have effluent water returned to the Green River.

"I wanted to suggest that because this is a rezoning application it should be separate from the sewage treatment plant issue. The sewage treatment plant will be resolved though the SLRD staff, ministry officials and RMOW staff," said Melamed.

The mayor then asked that the board consider not moving on the rezoning application until the fate of Whistler’s current boundary expansion application was known. Responding to Area C Director Susie Gimse’s suggestion that Whistler would not be successful in this pursuit, Melamed pointed to the community’s track record on Olympic legacies.

"When Whistler went into the bid process for the Olympic Games it decided on behalf of the community to ask for three legacies, win or lose the bid: financial tools, new funding; a 300-acre community land bank and boundary expansion. We have been successful so far on two out of three of those," said Melamed. "I assure you it’s our intention to secure the boundary expansion."

The mayor cited an e-mail from a ministry official that suggested the decision would occur in the fall. He also noted that the legacy request was in place before the subdivision application and that should be considered. Also, he pointed out that the subdivision did not conform to Smart Growth principles as outlined in the Regional Growth Strategy.

Other board members argued that the developer had a right to a quick process and that stalling the re-zoning could cause hardship.

"They have a 64-lot subdivision approved, they have the ability to recover their investment and cost," said Melamed. "We’re not saying no to the subdivision. The issue is the rezoning application. Our position hasn’t changed. What we did know, was that development of that area was imminent. Saying no to re-zoning is not creating a hardship for the developers."

Melamed also said that he found it a stretch to call the $2.49 million a gift – a concept that others noted could be problematic.

"In regard to the gifting component, I am unclear how this works and whether we can be sure it can happen," stated Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy. "I would hesitate to be in favour of this and then have Whistler absorb the development and then no one achieves anything. We don’t receive our gift and they don’t have any input."

Gimse suggested the issue be deferred to the SLRD’s lawyers to get an opinion on the legality of the gift.

"Rezoning is required and it casts a shadow on the gift," said Gimse. "We can only accept it if it’s above board, straightforward and comes with no strings attached."

Still other board members, who are not area stakeholders, were concerned about the urgency of the matter.

"On the issue of getting the ball rolling, we continue to reference demands on staff time and wasted effort, the regional district has done right by the developer. It should wait until boundary expansion goes through," Melamed reiterated.

The SLRD board was not convinced and decided to proceed with the rezoning request pending a legal opinion on the $2.49 million gift.

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