Pemberton Council approved first reading of a bylaw on Tuesday that will concentrate all commercial and business development in the town centre, something that was established as vital in the Official Community Plan as the population continues to grow.
“We would like to concentrate our commercial and business sectors in our downtown core, rather than have a situation where we have commercial developments on the highway that are detrimental to the downtown core, and we turn around in 10 to 15 years and say we have to revitalize downtown somehow because businesses are in other areas of the village,” said Councillor Mark Blundell. The zoning bylaws proposed by council, he added, are also favoured by developers.
Under the new bylaw, the owners of several lots of land along Highway 99 and Portage Road would have the option of applying to rezone their properties from C-2 and C-3 commercial to residential.
The change was first suggested by realtor and former Whistler mayor Drew Meredith, who addressed Pemberton Council earlier this year. Concentrating development in the town centre is a cornerstone of the Official Community Plan, but that requires curtailing fringe commercial developments.
“We don’t want to see strip malls outside of town, which is also something that the community has indicated,” said Blundell. “We don’t want the same situation as Squamish. Not that any of the commercial zoning allows for strip malls, but it does send the message that we want to go in a direction where we have a nice downtown that is walkable, healthy and safe.”
Blundell says most developers he has spoken to are happy with the bylaw, and that many are already planning to apply for rezoning. So far he hasn’t had any negative responses.
“We’re not eliminating commercial development, but proposing to developers that if they don’t want commercial they can apply to rezone their developments for residential,” he said. “We’re just giving developers the choice, and I think it’s a choice that many would welcome.”
Blundell expects the bylaw to move forward quickly, possibly coming up for a second and third reading at the next council meeting on May 20. There will be an opportunity for developers and the public to comment on the bylaw, but Blundell expects to have a fourth and final reading by the end of June.
Mayor Jordan Sturdy said the actual discussion at council expanded the area covered by the initial bylaw proposed by staff to include more properties.
“We don’t want to see Pemberton become like so many highway communities, where you’re welcome to the community is gas stations and fast food restaurants,” he said.
“There were really two issues. There were the C2 zoned properties, which are zoned for highway commercial, and there was a potentially huge inventory there with 20 acres of land. We really wanted to shrink that and focus the commercial development at the intersection, and at the same time recognize that much of the land is very suitable for residential.
“The second issue was the C3 zoned properties on Portgage, where we actually required commercial development as part of the residential development. That is consistent with smart growth, but I felt it was sacrificing the vibrancy of the downtown.”
Because that area is walking distance to downtown, the bylaw would allow for residential development without any commercial components.
“When you get commercial spread out over a couple of kilometres you automatically create a situation where you need a car, and lose out on some opportunities for other interests.”
According to Sturdy, adding more residential to Pemberton will also increase the viability of the town centre by growing the customer base for shops and offices.