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Melamed, Gardner commiserate over RGS

Mayors try to break impasse over interpretations, how to proceed



The mayors of Whistler and Squamish met this week to discuss the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) but they don't seem much closer to an agreement.

Mayor Ken Melamed of Whistler and Mayor Greg Gardner of Squamish have sat on two sides of the issue for months, with one feeling it's important to have oversight from other communities and the other worried that the strategy could impact municipal autonomy when making land use decisions.

The RGS, which sits at second reading, is an initiative by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District to focus Sea to Sky development into compact, sustainable communities that encourage Smart Growth principles. All communities in the regional district are expected to comply with it.

Most municipalities in the regional district agree with the strategy's aims but some are concerned about how it can be implemented.

The District of Squamish brought implementation of the strategy to a halt in October of 2008, expressing concern that it could impact municipal autonomy.

That decision has had a ripple effect in the SLRD, with the Village of Pemberton and even some Whistler councillors worried that the strategy, through an amending process, could give individual communities a veto over major amendments to the strategy.

Melamed supports the strategy as is and met with Gardner Monday to discuss their perspectives.

"We had a number of issues to discuss, one of them was how we can get past our different interpretations of what the RGS is or isn't," he said. "Is there a way we can get to common agreement and understanding, just generally and simply?

"Both Greg and I expressed an interest and a desire to work together as mayors and on behalf of our communities because we understand that the future has many challenges for both communities and we have a very symbiotic relationship and it's very important we can find ways to work together."

The SLRD and its member communities, which include Whistler and Squamish, are involved in a non-binding dispute resolution process. The SLRD has voted to go to a binding arbitration process, which involves an arbitrator considering various options for adopting the strategy and then choosing one.

To actually go to arbitration, Squamish has to agree.

Melamed said arbitration isn't his first choice but added communities seem too far apart on the strategy as part of the current process. He wishes the regional district could just adopt the Regional Growth Strategy as it stands.

"Given that my first choice has not materialized, the second choice is the arbitration process," he said.

Gardner could not be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday.

Though the strategy has yet to go to arbitration, municipalities have already begun looking at options they'll present to an arbitrator, should it go that route.

The Village of Pemberton, which supports going to arbitration, wants a solution whereby communities have a duty to consult with the regional district if they want to amend their OCPs. That solution would also see each community submit Regional Context Statements to identify the relationships between their official community plans and the RGS.