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Boundary expansions threaten regional growth plan

Board approves MOU without support of three rural directors

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The regional district is moving forward with its growth plan for the region, even though a distinctive split at the board table threatened to derail the process altogether.

Representatives from the four member municipalities of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the four member electoral areas cannot agree on the issue of municipal boundary expansions. The issue highlights the distinct concerns of rural areas versus urban in the region.

That much was clear at a lengthy debate at July’s regular board meeting on Monday.

"I have sneaking suspicion that we’ll never agree on this," said Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, who was pushing to remove the issue of municipal boundary expansions from the development of the Regional Growth Strategy. "We’re all agreed we can’t come to a resolution on it."

The SLRD is working on an overall growth strategy for the region, which will ultimately become the planning vision for achieving common economic, social and environmental goals. As they work on the strategy, the board has developed a Memorandum of Understanding which will serve as an interim decision making filter until the RGS is complete. Ultimately the MOU halts growth during the 18 month preparation process of the RGS.

But as the rural areas push to include boundary expansions in that process, the urban areas pushed back in disagreement.

At the heart of the issue there are concerns that municipalities such as Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton, are making moves at the provincial level to have their boundaries expanded. Their expansions take up land, which was formerly part of the surrounding electoral areas. That could have an impact on the tax base, among other things, of the rural areas.

"We felt this was a friendly addition to the MOU and not anything that municipalities should feel threatened by," said Area C Director Susan Gimse.

She maintains that the board earlier agreed to deal with boundary expansions through the RGS.

As an agreement seemed unlikely at Monday’s meeting she requested the board defer its decision.

"At the end of the day if it takes a little bit of time to work through some of the contentious issues, that’s OK," said Gimse.

The majority of the board did not agree to the deferral and they pushed through with the discussions.

Area A director Russ Oakley, who represents one of the two more rural areas in the district, explained to the board why he opted out of the RGS for Area A. He felt the process was being steamrolled by Whistler and Squamish and did not want to defend why he was taking part in it to his constituents.

"Early on in this process it became fairly obvious to me… that what this was turning into was a Squamish/Whistler growth strategy not a regional growth strategy," he said.

Sutherland took exception to Oakley’s claim that the work was being "ram-roded" by the two biggest municipalities in the district, and explained that they agree on many things except this one contentious issue.

"We have a fundamental difference," he said.

For Councillor Nick Davies, who was sitting at the board table as Mayor Hugh O’Reilly’s alternate representing Whistler, the question of boundary expansions was almost out of the board’s hands. There’s a procedure in place in the provincial legislation for dealing with it he said.

"The question of where the line is drawn almost becomes irrelevant," he said, adding that he would hate to see the RGS stalled over a line on a map.

In the end the board supported the MOU without the inclusion of boundary expansions. It was approved by a majority vote though three of the four rural directors opposed the vote.

The RGS will be a collective way to deal with issues in the region such as growth, economic transition, transportation, affordable housing and co-ordinated land use. It is expected to take 18 months to complete. In the meantime the MOU will guide business in the region. That MOU focuses on urban Smart Growth principles, focusing on urban containment and protecting the character of non-urban communities and non-settlement areas.

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