A retreat centre expected to host spiritual workshops by Opus Dei has been approved for Britannia Beach.
At a meeting on July 26, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District approved a zoning bylaw that re-designated a 66-acre piece of land from "Mixed Residential" and "Open Space" to "Institutional Retreat Centre." Another bylaw rezoned the land from Resource Use One to Institutional Retreat Centre One.
The bylaw was changed at the behest of the Institute for Research, Communication and Development, which is pushing to build a spiritual retreat centre on the site it owns above the former mining community.
The Montreal-based organization is looking to build the centre in two phases. The first will be the retreat centre, a 40,000 square foot facility with 28 bedrooms, conference areas and administrative headquarters. The second will be a youth pavilion of about 20,000 square feet, including 22 bedrooms and a chapel.
Opus Dei, the controversial Catholic organization that was portrayed in horrific terms in the novel the Da Vinci Code, will run spiritual workshops at the centre but they don't own the facility.
The development comes with a number of conditions. The SLRD has secured an amenity agreement with the proponent that gives $10,000 to the Britannia Beach fire hall.
There is also an agreement to build a single-track trail through the property that connects Britannia with Murrin Park, as well as a covenant to explore traffic safety improvements within the community. The Institute for Research, Communication and Development has committed to providing $10,000 to the SLRD for traffic improvements before even applying for a building permit to construct the centre.
Opposition to the plan previously came from Britannia residents who felt that the site should be used for housing - which it was originally zoned for. They told Pique in stories printed in September of 2009 that the development will only attract "semi-transients" who come and go to workshops held at the centre. Their opposition had nothing to do with Opus Dei or religion.
Fadi Sarraf, president of the institute, previously told Pique that the site is too steep for housing.
In a letter to the SLRD on April 18 of this year, Sarraf indicated that the institute will not apply to the provincial government or the regional district for property tax exempt status, as many religious organizations are able to do. He said that's because the institute realizes it is obligated to pay for community water and sewer systems.