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O’Reilly wants green development at Porteau

SLRD concerned about scale of residential project at south end of corridor

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Whistler’s mayor is calling on the regional district to demand green building practices from the developers of a large residential project at Porteau Cove.

"I think that the regional district has to draw a line in the sand," said Hugh O’Reilly, at last Thursday’s Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board meeting. "We’ve got to put a green building standard in.

"The key is, if we’re going to develop, let’s do the very best."

His push for green development comes on the heels of bylaws that would allow up to 1,400 homes on the southern boundary of the district, in Porteau Cove. There could be enough development on that site to house up to 3,500 residents in a mixture of housing types, from rental apartments and stacked townhouses to groups of small single-family lots.

Squamish First Nation owns the land, almost 1,200 acres, and is working in partnership with Concord Pacific to deliver the project.

Last Thursday’s board meeting was the first time the bylaws were presented to the board and board members, particularly the two members representing Squamish at the regional district table, were quick to comment on the proposed project.

Councillor Raj Kahlon questioned how the development would impact Squamish, with perhaps 3,500 more corridor residents drawing on the library and sports facilities there.

"There is a limit to our facilities," he said.

Councillor Corinne Lonsdale, who was sitting in for Mayor Ian Sutherland, questioned how the regional district which is based in Pemberton, would govern this development so far away. That’s not reasonable she said and called for a governance study to be done.

She also asked staff why this development was moving forward at a time when the regional district has asked to see little or no growth in the region until the Regional Growth Strategy has been completed.

Staff’s position is that the development is consistent with the Official Community Plan for the area and as such, should be allowed to move ahead in the absence of a regional growth plan.

Steven Olmstead, manager of planning and development for the SLRD, said the OCP designates the area as a "Special Study Area." It was given that designation at a time when the land was under option to Squamish First Nation and with the knowledge that the Squamish Nation would want to build a community there. That’s staff’s interpretation of the OCP, said Olmstead, adding that the board could decide otherwise.

One more key point raised by board members was the impact the development would have on the already-congested Sea to Sky Highway.

A traffic study done by the developer showed the traffic would increase northbound by 182 vehicles in the morning rush hour and by 158 vehicles southbound at the same time.

O’Reilly said the board must ensure there are transit options for the people living in the neighbourhood to encourage them out of their cars and into other modes of transit. If the transit system isn’t good, people won’t use it, he said.

"You as planners have to drive that agenda for us," O’Reilly implored staff. "We didn’t know better in the ’60s. We know better now."

He cautioned the board not to think of this project in isolation but to consider the cumulative impact of all the development in the corridor.

O’Reilly also added that he was not in a rush to move the project forward.

SLRD Director Susan Gimse called her fellow board members concerns "stalling tactics" but Kahlon disputed that charge.

"We are not trying to delay this one," he said, adding that this is the best time to explore and address the board’s concerns.

The board unanimously passed first readings of the bylaws with some minor amendments, including the need to do a governance study. The bylaws will now be sent to the various agencies for comment.

The bylaws could be adopted by the end of the summer/early fall.

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