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Pemberton bylaw update faces stiff opposition

Petition on public to say 'no' to proposal to re-zone Village of Pemberton downtown core By Joel Barde

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Pemberton's comprehensive bylaw update is facing some stiff opposition from the community.

Over 1,400 people have signed a petition calling on Village of Pemberton Council to amend Zoning Bylaw 832, 2018, a comprehensive update that would remove "Auto Repair Shop" and "Equipment Servicing, Rental and Repair Shop" from the list of permitted land uses in the downtown core.

The changes would impact automotive repair shop Blacks Hot Wheels and ATV and snowmobile retailer and repair shop Valley Chainsaw Recreational Ltd.

"We the undersigned hereby affirm that we wish an amendment be made to the bylaw draft to allow Valley Chainsaw and Recreational Ltd and Black's Hot Wheels to remain in operation as per usual at their current locations," reads the petition, which is hosted on the website change.org.

According to the Village, both Black's and Valley Chainsaw would still be able to operate if the proposed bylaw is implemented as is.

Both businesses would be considered "legal non-conforming," meaning they would be allowed to operate and even sell the business to another owner, according to a document produced by the Village. The businesses would, however, lose their "legal non-conforming" status if they were to cease operations for six months or more, or if their respective buildings were destroyed beyond 75 per cent of their value.

Moreover, neither business would be permitted to expand beyond "its original footprint."

"Regular maintenance and upgrades (i.e.: interior paint, new doors, walls or windows) to the structure are still permitted but cannot be expanded (ie. you cannot increase the size of the original building footprint). The Village is able to review plans for upgrades and make a determination on a case by case basis," reads the document.

According to the change.org petition, the bylaw changes represent a threat to the walkability and "pioneer heritage" of Pemberton.

"We jeopardize our community identity, our culture, our heritage, and our downtown commerce when we abandon our community vision by selectively choosing which businesses to keep and which to discard by simply re-zoning them out of existence," it reads.

"Valley Chainsaw and Black's Hot Wheels are uniquely Pemberton, nowhere else can you shop for your groceries, do your banking, pick up your mail, browse the downtown stores, grab lunch at a downtown café and at the same time bring your recreational vehicle, lawnmower, or automobile in for servicing.

"In downtown Pemberton, we truly have one-stop shopping—you drive into the core, park your car, and take care of all your business in one go. If you don't need to get the car out, most of the community is within walking, cycling, or even a horse ride away from town. This is, of course, what makes the town so vibrant."

The suite of changes included in the bylaw update—which are meant to clarify existing bylaws and better reflect Pemberton's 2011 Official Community Plan—received first and second readings at a June 12 council meeting, forcing a public hearing on the proposed changes that is to be held on Tuesday, June 26.

First and second readings of the draft bylaw were supported by all VOP councillors, save for Jennie Helmer, who cited concerns over the minimum parcel size of farmland and the burden placed on Black's and Valley Chainsaw.

"Both of their services are hugely needed in the community," said Helmer.

The zoning changes don't "reflect the values" of the community and shouldn't be supported, she added.

"The taxpayers of Pemberton use their services. To put any risk on those properties and businesses is a big deal."

The Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce has also come out against the changes, citing concerns that the new rules might act as a disincentive to Black's and Valley Chainsaw from improving the businesses.

"This tact doesn't feel right," reads a letter from the chamber that has been sent to the Village.

"To change the status specifically on these two longstanding local businesses from a site-specific permitted use to 'lawful non-conforming' will not only hinder them from making any alterations or additions, it may actually de-motivate them from enhancing their business, which in turn would improve the aesthetics of the downtown core."

To single out both businesses "just didn't sit right" with the chamber's board of directors, explained chamber president Graham Turner.

Both business owners are "deeply rooted in the community, and that's why there's so much passion and feedback going on about this," he said.

According to Mayor Mike Richman, the Village is not trying to phase out either business.

"I think there is a bit of a misconception that (the bylaw update is) being done in an effort to push them out of town. (But) that's absolutely not the case. We totally recognize the history—they're landmark businesses that draw people to the community."

That said, Richman added that there are some concerns about both Black's and Valley Chainsaw. The Village has received complaints of "unsightliness" regarding Valley Chainsaw, which stores machines and pallets outside, in contravention of current zoning regulations.

A few years ago, the Village conducted a groundwater protection plan, explained Richman.

Upon completion, Vancouver Coastal Health recommended that at some point the Village zone the downtown core "so there is not a tire shop located right above our aquifer. Because if there were a fire and we had to put it out, that could very possibly infiltrate into our groundwater and aquifer and compromise our water."

Richman added that he and the other councillors are open to going down other avenues with regards to the zoning, underlining that the bylaw is still in the draft stage.

"We want to get this right, and we need the public input to get it right," he said. "No decision has been made. This is a proposed bylaw at this point, and we recognize that we will be making changes and tweaks to it after we've heard from the public.

"There is obviously a strong voice that these businesses are being kicked out of town, and I want to be clear that that's not the case."

The Public Hearing will take place on Tuesday, June 26 at 7 p.m. at the Pemberton & District Community Centre.

You can review the draft bylaw at: pemberton.ca/public/download/documents/49126

Submissions from the public on the bylaw can be made online at: pemberton.ca/government/council-meeting-information/write-to-mayor-council.

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