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Regional growth coming fast and furious

Squamish-Lillooet Regional District ranks region-wide plan as a top priority

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There could be 2,010 housing units developed in the Lower Soo Valley, according to early conceptual discussions. One hundred more homes are planned for the land north of Wedge Mountain.

The Ravens Crest development near Pemberton could bring 350 homes to the area.

There are proposals for 1,400 homes at Porteau Cove, almost 100 more in Britannia Beach, and Furry Creek has been approved for another 800 residences by the time it reaches build out.

Add in Olympic development, an upgraded highway, and the possibility of a new airport, and you’ve got an area around Whistler on the cusp of great change, readying itself for an unprecedented rate of growth.

"It's coming at us like a locomotive," said Whistler’s Mayor Hugh O’Reilly, one of the nine members of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board.

To help manage this growth, the SLRD is fast-tracking a region-wide plan called the Regional Growth Strategy, which should be complete in 2006. It's a large-scale project which will end up costing the regional district more than $550,000.

Some officials admit this plan should have been done years ago to help the SLRD make decisions about the future of the Sea to Sky corridor and the area beyond. Though it may be late, they're pleased that it's now underway and gathering steam.

"Maybe we’re five years late in doing it, but we’re doing it," said Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner, one of the only SLRD directors who supported Whistler’s push for the RGS in previous years when others at the SLRD would not.

In the next 15 years, the population of the SLRD is set to almost double in size, from 35,000 people to a total of 65,000, with most of that growth happening in the southern area of the district, from Pemberton to Lions Bay.

To put that in real terms, the regional district will need 15,000 additional residences to house those new people.

That's got SLRD Board Chair John Turner thinking, "OK, where are we going to put 15,000 new residences and how are we going to be able to manage that over the next 20 years?"

Much of the growth pressure has been sparked by the region's proximity to the Lower Mainland but also by Whistler’s enormous success, a reaction Whistler anticipated almost a decade ago. It’s just one of the reasons O’Reilly has been calling for a plan since he first became an SLRD director nine years ago.

"(Whistler has) always known that if we… had the kind of success that Vail or Aspen or some of the other resorts had, that our success would have impacts to our neighbouring communities," he said.

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