Visitors could be taking the Sea to Sky Gondola by July 2013 after the rezoning request to allow for the building of a mountaintop terminal above Howe Sound passed final reading at the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) meeting on June 25.
Directors unanimously approved the request for rezoning and Official Community Plan amendment bylaws needed for the project.
The gondola also passes through the District of Squamish at the bottom terminal and through Stawamus Chief Provincial Park before reaching the top of Habrich Ridge in SLRD Area D.
Prior to the vote the tone of discussion between SLRD directors was generally one of consensus, with some noting that controversial rezoning of provincial park lands as part of the project had nothing to do with the SLRD.
"We should take care of our responsibilities (in terms of rezoning Area D land on the ridge) and let the province take care of theirs," said Whistler councillor and SLRD director Jack Crompton.
The proponents for the project were pleased to have passed this hurdle.
"We're feeling very good. I think there is a lot of support and I don't think anyone on the SLRD is opposed to the project," David Greenfield said in an interview after the vote, noting that the project was on track to open in July 2013.
The next and final stage, Greenfield said is negotiating with the B.C. government concerning the park lands.
"There's a stepped process in that they had to re-designate and reclassify a portion of the land over which the gondola passes. The government passed legislation on the reclassification but procedurally they have to overlay that with a protected area status," he said. Greenfield added that this final step is currently underway.
"That should be completed shortly, from our discussions with the government and BC Parks that's occurring as we speak... Once that's done, the last real approval is a BC Parks permit which allows us to go in and start construction and operate over that portion of the park," he said.
Greenfield hopes that the protected area designation could be approved in the next month.
"As soon as the protect area status is in place, we can get down to it," Greenfield said. "It's a chess board, let me tell you."
Greenfield said a development permit for the gondola was all that remained of the SLRD's permission process.
"This process is done, once they work out for the development agreement then that completes the SLRD process," he said. "It's complicated because there are many different levels of approval that we have."
time short for Gas Tax discussion
The SLRD is running out of time to organize its applications for funding projects that qualify through the region's 2012 allocation of $1.8 million in government gas tax money, SLRD chairman Susie Gimse told the board.
No projects are currently at the board level but the various municipal chief administrative officers were nearly at the end of the process of selecting district-wide projects for the board to discuss and decide upon, responded SLRD CAO Lynda Flynn.
"We're just about there," said Flynn.
But the chief concern for Gimse and other directors is that since the CAOs were meeting around once a month, there was little time left to get applications in by the deadline on September 30.
Flynn explained that a new CAO in Squamish had delayed the process while she was being trained into her new role. Lillooet also needed to supply further input. Project suggestions will be finalized by CAOs in July and presented to the board after, said Flynn, but the ideas were moving away from regionally shared projects — like composting centres, and videoconfencing centres — to more localized or sub-regional ideas.
Director Marg Lampman of Lillooet said the town would be "actively pursuing gas tax money" because of longstanding flooding problems that had led to an emergency order for the last few months.
"Water is running down our main street," Lampman told directors.