Squamish moves forward on Regional Growth Strategy 

Squamish, Whistler councils agree to binding arbitration

Although the District of Squamish council has not changed its opinion on autonomy within the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS), council voted on Tuesday night to enter binding arbitration within the provincial framework.

Council made the decision despite the risk that the arbitrator could side against them, effectively giving other governments in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District a vote on land use decisions within Squamish.

Council supported the staff recommendation to move ahead to binding arbitration unanimously, although Corinne Londsdale questioned whether there was any harm in sending the issue back to non-binding arbitration for another 120-day period.

"I'm not as optimistic as our planner is," she said. "I'm very much concerned that we could lose our autonomy.

"At one point in time we were the only jurisdiction not onside (with the RGS strategy), the steering committee and staff members (at the District of Squamish) were supportive of the original RGS," she said, pointing out that it was the past council that voted against the move, with then Councillor Greg Gardner leading the opposition.

"I'm not sure the arbitrator might not look at this and see that at one point all were agreed and Squamish wasn't. It's a bit of a crapshoot, we don't know where the arbitrator will go. Why are we afraid of triggering another 120 days of public comment?"

Cameron Chalmers, the director of planning for the District of Squamish, admitted that there was a chance that the RGS could be passed without the changes that Squamish has proposed, but said it was more likely that Whistler - so far the only municipality not in favour of the changes - will be in the minority.

Other governments, including Pemberton, the District of Lilloeet and area directors within the regional district, have agreed in principle to Squamish's proposed changes to the RGS, which includes keeping autonomy over land use decisions with local governments.

"There is a slight element of risk but one advantage we have as the objector is that we're in charge of the process, the selection of the arbitrator and the settlement process (is between) the SLRD and Squamish only," said Chalmers. "We are optimistic that this is heading in a very good course, and we believe we can win a consent-based arbitration."

Now the mayor, Gardner said he supported the moved to end the non-binding arbitration process, which has been ongoing since May.

"I'm comfortable with the staff recommendation and we also have a responsibility to keep (the RGS) moving forward. A lot of time and money has been spent going forward with this process," he said.

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