Study points to need for higher density in Pemberton 

Planning now for a population that could exceed 13,000 within the next 20 years

By Cindy Filipenko

Higher density housing will have to become the Pemberton norm if growth continues at current levels.

This suggestion emerged as the dominant theme of the Pemberton & Area Sub-Regional Land Use Planning Study.

“It’s a project that’s been long in coming and I think there are some interesting results,” said Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy.

More than 35 people, developers, politicians and members of the public, attended a presentation of the study’s findings May 22. The study examines land use issues specific to the Pemberton Valley as a complement to the larger Squamish-Lillooet Regional District’s (SLRD) Regional Growth Strategy.

Last fall, the Lil’wat Nation tabled its land use plan.

Described as a “unique exercise” by consultant John Styles of Vancouver-based Stantec Consulting, the sub-regional study had the full participation and co-operation of the SLRD, Village of Pemberton (VOP) and the Lil’wat Nation.

Representatives from each of those organizations, respectively planners Steve Olmstead, Michael Rosen and Liz Jones, were part of the project’s steering committee.

The purpose of the study is to inform overall policy direction within the regional growth strategy for managing long-term urban growth in the Pemberton-Mt. Currie area and to address other areas of interest in Area C. Its intended outcome is to provide a coordinated land use planning framework among the SLRD, VOP and Lil’wat Nation.

Rosen, who has worked with the VOP since the 1980s said that he felt the report was a good, broad-stroke document, that provided a good basis to work from but cautioned that “the devil is in the details.”

The report highlights the significant geographical and socio-cultural land constraints, such as agricultural land reserve land, facing the area and identifies two main areas suitable for development. One area is the established Benchlands development, expected to build out at more than 500 units.

The other area identified as ideal for development is an approximately 400 ha parcel that encompasses the Ivey Lake and Mosquito Lake areas. Some of that land was previously examined as a location for the Ravens Crest Development.

If the population continues to grow at 4.7 per cent per year, the average annual increase over the past 25 years, more than 3,000 new homes will have to come online by 2026. To facilitate that number of new dwellings, given the current land constraints, densities would have to be at least on par with that of the Benchlands, which is 5.25 housing units per ha. The study suggested that a density of 6.56 units per hectare would extend the housing supply “another three or four years.”

Styles fell under criticism from some members of the audience for the study not entertaining development along the corridor between Mt. Currie and Whistler.

The consultant defended the report, saying that it reflected principles of smart growth that were already established in the regional growth strategy and the emphasis was in creating “compact sustainable communities.” Styles repeatedly noted that the study was a “consultant’s opinion” and that implementation of any or all recommendations would fall to the three governments involved and would be subject to their processes, such as public consultation.

“There are various areas where there’s going to be some development. In a lot of these areas development has been toward rural standards,” said Olmstead. “What we’re looking at in this study are lands where we can plan for growth.”

The 21-page report concludes by outlining a number of next steps, including encouraging Smart Growth principles and updating various Official Community Plans to reflect that policy direction. As well, it suggests undertaking further analysis for servicing and development that addresses the Lil’wat cultural sites and expanding the current VOP boundaries to include the new growth areas and plan for future planning in terms of securing funding.

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