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Britannia project delayed two months while SLRD reviews size and scale proposed

Developer Taicheng requesting up to 3,000 units, now must wait for report



The Taicheng Development Corporation will have to wait a little longer for a decision on how many units their proposed development at South Britannia on Howe Sound will be allowed to have, and the mix and layout of property types.

The Chinese company would like to see 2,500 to 3,000 units comprised of 48 per cent apartments, plus townhomes and single-family homes, but the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District did not make a decision on this request at the monthly board meeting of Aug. 27.

Instead, the board referred the matter to an inter-municipal and regional district planning committee for further discussion after a 45-minute debate. The committee will have two months to assess the project as it currently stands and report back to the board.

SLRD Director of Planning Kim Needham told the board that Taicheng had been working on their Official Community Plan (OCP) and zoning amendment application for South Britannia since May 2012.

"The project was sort of a moving target for some time, it was revised and changed based on input the team was getting at the meetings," Needham said, adding that having fewer than 2,500 units would make it harder to establish amenities such as a school and stores, and "would not necessarily create the same kind of compact community."

The South Britannia site is currently zoned in the OCP as allowing 1,000 units. Taicheng has requested three time this amount. There is an excess capacity in the north at Britannia Beach of about 730 unallocated units, which could be combined, Needham said, though this would still fall short of the number of units requested by the developer.

"The request is for the board to provide staff and Taicheng with some direction on how to move forward...," she said.

"They are considering whether to write us a big cheque and put in for their rezoning of the OCP amendment. We would like some feeling from the board as to whether there is support to move forward (in terms of unit numbers and also the mix of units)."

A heated discussion took place following Needham's presentation, with several directors, including Whistler councillor Jack Crompton, stating this was the largest development in his experience as a public official and more time was needed to come to a decision.

Crompton proposed the committee look at this further but wanted six months to do so, and he and Director Maurice Freitag of Area D voted against the motion.

Taicheng purchased the 202-hectare site in 2012 for $30.5 million and has proposed the ambitious creation of a community, shopping precinct and park on Minaty Bay.

Chief architect for the project, Ron Lea of Folio Architecture, expressed unhappiness at the amount of time it was taking to come to a decision about the request.

"There's certainly been a desire to slow the project down, I think," Lea said in an interview afterwards. "The expertise lies within the SLRD staff. Of course, we're disappointed to see it slowed down further but we will comply with the requirements we have and move forward with it."

Lea said they have been given no direction in terms of their approach and "so we're not in the position to say that we have to change the direction."

He believes the director's discussion had to do with the impact of South Britannia on the entire region.

"All our studies on this have indicated a positive response economically, and also solutions to issues such as transportation systems like public transport, schools, and a response to the Regional Growth Strategy with regard to a compact community," Lea said.

"So this is all very much compliant with SLRD bylaws that are now in place."

Lea said it was the fourth time the project had been brought to the SLRD board for a decision.

Peter Cheng, the principal of Taicheng, was also at the meeting. Through an interpreter he said: "They (the board) did not think strategically as a whole region. This project will help the development and tourism of the whole region. It's so close to Vancouver and it will attract people from Metro Vancouver... we are trying to attract more people to the corridor that will complement the whole region."