By Cindy Filipenko
The Soo Valley is the latest battleground for developers land use planners and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, which is trying to referee the conflict.
A land and resource management plan for the corridor, which includes the Soo Valley, has been finished but not adopted. The Lil’wat Nation has released its land use plan, which divides the Soo Valley into two zones. The SLRD’s Area C has a sub-regional planning committee looking at the Soo and an Area C official community plan is underway.
On top of this, the Delta Land Development Corporation has plans for the Lower Soo.
That was the background to Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed’s notice of motion to protect the Soo Valley from development at Monday’s SLRD board meeting. Melamed called for development in the Soo to be consistent with the Sea to Sky LRMP.
But Bruce Langereis of the Delta Land Development Corporation had concerns.
“What we’re seeking is a fair process that respects the consultation going on with our group and First Nations at this time,” said Langereis. “I believe that the motion does not respect the consultation we’re having with First Nations. We’re disappointed with the motion and hope the board won’t support it.”
The Delta Land Development Corporation, also known as the Delta Group, has been investigating the possibility of developing the area for a smaller-format housing in the Lower Soo Valley. (The developer defines this as homes under 2,000 sq. ft.)
Development of the Lower Soo Valley is consistent with the recently released Lil’wat Land Use Plan. However, concerns around developing any portion of the Soo Valley have arisen at the SLRD board level in the last two months.
“This not a motion that entrenches a position. It indicates a policy direction. You might reconsider the investment of your funds given that the board may have a predisposition. The fact is that you didn’t come to us and say you were having negotiations behind the scenes with First Nations,” stated Melamed.
“The board generally discourages and disfavours development in the Soo Valley. There has been general appreciation of the value of the Soo Valley and Soo wetlands as being undeveloped.”
Melamed pointed to both the environmental and tourism value of protecting the land. He emphasized the importance of having a policy that reflected the principles outlined in the SLRD’s Regional Growth Strategy and Memorandum of Understanding.
Village of Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy pointed out that two other processes affecting the Soo Valley are currently in the works, a sub-regional planning study incorporating the VOP, Electoral Area C and Mt. Currie, as well as a review of Area C’s Official Community Plan.
“Frankly I’m not sure it’s appropriate for the board to take a position prior to the outcome of those processes,” said Sturdy.
Area C director Susie Gimse voiced her concern about how solidifying a board position may affect relations with First Nations.
“At this point I wonder if we’re backing ourselves into a corner. We know that the First Nations have an interest here. We know the Soo is part of Area C. We have planning processes in progress. We’ve invited First Nations to participate in processes… If we’re going to have meaningful participation with First Nations neighbours we have to be prepared to come to the table and listen to what they’re interests are. If we come with very specific terms and positions, we will fail. That is my concern,” said Gimse.
Melamed stressed that any position taken by the board did not mean an end to discussion with other interest groups.
“The sooner we send clear messages the better and more fair it is to all people involved in this process,” he said. “We will be engaging the public, but in light of some principles we have already agreed to. The position of no development in the Soo is completely consistent with the constituents in my area.”
SLRD Administrator Paul Edgington pointed out the LRMP has not been adopted and all other studies are currently in process.
“We have to consider some of the statements and principles of the LRMP,” said Gimse. “In terms of taking a firm position on anything, I don’t think we can do it. We have to consider all information before taking a firm position. My original comment and concern goes back to inviting First Nations to the table to work with us and I think we have to come to the table with an open mind.”
Mayor Ian Sutherland’s concern was that a lack of clarity was effectively “leading developers on.”
“We have to let people know where the board is coming from,” said Sutherland.
In light of the various processes currently undertaken within the SLRD framework, the board elected not to vote on Melamed’s notice of motion. Instead, the board decided to refer the issue of the Soo Valley to the Area C sub-regional planning committee.”