January 13, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

Village sprawl or habitat 

Family farms or estate acreage? Open fields or hockey rinks? Townhome complexes or remnant wetlands? Networks of trails or subdivisions? Lisa Richardson investigates the challenges Pemberton, B.C.'s fastest-growing community, is facing.

The debate over Smart Growth could get heated in Pemberton on Jan. 14 th , when local developers gather alongside concerned citizens, planners, farmers and green space advocates to explore sustainable land use practices.

With Pemberton’s ongoing growth spurt making headlines again, the town’s associated aches and pains are about to be aired.

For local property developer Cam McIvor, these growing pains are manifesting in a long wish-list for amenities and recreation services. According to McIvor, Pemberton’s economy needs as much nurturing as its social and environmental needs, and until the town achieves a critical tax-base, checking development will only hurt us.

" The principles of Smart Growth are sound, but different communities are at different stages of development," he says. "Urban sprawl is the main enemy of Smart Growth, and it’s more prevalent an issue for major urban areas. Pemberton is a fairly infant community, in terms of services, so to have a sustainable amount of tax base, jobs and overall economy, we need to allow development until we get to the point where we can start moderating growth."

For others, the changes and population surges of the last eight years have been enough.

Councillor Jennie Helmer recognizes that Pemberton is a young community in terms of development, and says this allows some influence in the direction of village design. " Many people don't want community sprawl with large single-family housing and auto dependency, but they need alternative options," she says.

Mayor Jordan Sturdy, who has spent the past two months getting up to speed with life at municipal hall, has discovered that the village runs on such a tight budget that a 1 per cent tax increase would only generate an additional $4,000 in revenue, which makes the prospect of developer’s cost contributions in order to build new infrastructure alluring.

This tension – between further developing the community to increase the tax base and protecting the quality of life – is age-old and one that Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed has seen play out during his nine years of service as a councillor, throughout which he has also served as a founding member of Smarth Growth B.C.

" One of the things when looking at planning that I hear so often, like a knee-jerk reaction to not having any money, is ‘We have to grow and expand our taxbase.’ Communities have to be very conscious of what that kind of growth means," Melamed says.

"I think people in Pemberton really like the rural nature and quality of living in the valley. How do you preserve and manage that character? It’s a catch-22 to have groups saying ‘We want more because we come from places with amenities and we want those services.’ They don’t necessarily realize that in asking for those kinds of services, you run a distinct risk of wrecking the place and losing the things you like about it."

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