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Attempt to preserve agricultural land contentious

SLRD bylaw would limit development of farm estates, including Riverlands



A bylaw to regulate the size and location of farm estates could have a major impact on the biggest privately-owned property between Whistler and Pemberton.

The Riverlands development, stretching over 1,240 acres in the Pemberton Meadows, could be impacted by a Squamish-Lillooet Regional District bylaw that aims to limit the footprint of a farm home plate to 3,600 square metres, including a driveway, swimming pool and lawn. That's about twice the area of the ballroom at the Telus Whistler Conference Centre.

The bylaw, discussed at the SLRD"s Nov. 23 meeting, would apply to properties in Electoral Area C and aims to limit the location of estates to within 60 metres of a dedicated road, effectively limiting how far into the property a house can be situated.

Roger Stacey, owners' representative with Riverlands, confirmed that the bylaw would impact his development but he wouldn't say exactly how. The property has eight lots, some of which have yet to be developed, just like 50 per cent of the land base in the Pemberton Meadows.

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, who also serves as an SLRD director, said the size limit of a farm home plate isn't an issue as much as its distance from a road.

"The objective of the bylaw is to preserve the agricultural capacity of the property," he said. "The concern is more the approach and how you go about achieving that. Oftentimes, the location of a house will be determined by a whole variety of different criteria, not just the 60 metres.

"If you drive up and down the Pemberton Valley, very few people would conform to that criteria."

Sturdy brought up the example of his own business, North Arm Farm on Highway 99. His own home is located about 250 metres from the road, but he said if he placed it within 60 metres of the road then he'd end up in a ditch - hardly the most ideal place to put your house.

"The other issue is that 60 metres from the road may well be the best land on the whole piece of property," he said. "So if you're trying to conserve the best land, there's nothing magic about 60 metres. The other thing is it could be a wetland.

"The approach is an arbitrary 60 metres or apply for a variance."

Sturdy was one of two directors who voted against moving the bylaw through first reading. He supports its objectives but has concerns about how it goes about them.

"I totally support the intent of the bylaw," he said. "I'm just concerned about how we're trying to achieve the objective and my preference would be to see us look at a development permit process, so if you want to build a house on (agricultural) land you're given a list of all the different criteria you may want to consider."

Susie Gimse, the SLRD director representing Area C, voted to put the bylaw to first reading but she didn't do it because she really supports the bylaw.

"It became very evident to me there was a lot of strong opinions with regard to the proposed bylaw," she said. "Leading up to the board meeting I received numerous e-mails, and you know sometimes when we put something forward we don't always get engagement from the general public.

"There are strong views, I didn't necessarily support the bylaw as it was written, but I thought the next step was to get it on the public agenda."

Gimse said the bylaw may not be the right one to help protect agriculture within the valley but she's happy that a conversation around it has begun.



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