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SLRD opposes Whistler’s northern boundary expansion

Developers may lose zoning to build more than 100 homes north of Wedge Mountain



Whistler’s huge boundary expansion application is moving ahead without the blessing of the local regional district.

At Monday’s regular meeting, the board of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District voted against the municipality’s expansion to the north but supported the proposed expansions to the south, east and west.

"I’ll take (support for) three quarters over nothing," said a disappointed Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly.

The board’s decision, which was supported by all of the regional directors except O’Reilly and Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, who was not present, came on the heels of a presentation by the developers of a 660 acre parcel of land on Whistler’s northern boundary.

Dr. Peter Bruckmann, who bought the land more than two years ago, and developer David Ehrhardt, outlined plans to build about 90 single family homes on the land. Their proposal is consistent with the SLRD’s zoning on the land. The proposal has been in the works with the SLRD for roughly two years.

The developers explained that if the municipality’s boundaries were to encompass their parcel of land, it would spell the demise of their proposed Green River Estates, north of Wedge Mountain at the base of Weart and Rethel Mountains.

Whistler council has already set in motion plans to reduce development potential in their new land, pending provincial approval of their boundary expansion. That convinced some SLRD board members to vote against Whistler’s expansion plans.

"This development proposal is consistent with our zoning," said Director Susan Gimse. "This development has been in the works for some time based on our land use bylaws."

Bruckmann bought the land for $8 million in 2002 and has subsequently spent $2 million investigating the development potential.

Though Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner said she did not like to oppose another municipality’s boundary expansion, the developer had been working in good faith with the SLRD.

"I do not believe we can allow a developer to spend $10 million in good faith and nix it," she said.

Board directors also considered input from the few neighbouring property owners in the north who would also be folded into the municipality under the proposed boundary expansion.

Donna Williams has lived north of Whistler for 18 years and has a hobby farm. She is worried that if her land falls into Whistler's boundaries, ultimately the municipality could change the zoning and her farm and mobile home would be non-conforming uses on the land.

"From what I have discovered during the past few months about the RMOW’s boundary expansion, I can see that it would have a severe negative impact on my current and future uses of this property," wrote Williams. "We would like to maintain our rural lifestyle, which is closer to that of the Pemberton area, than of the more urban lifestyle found in Whistler."

The board also questioned the fairness of taking away the inherent zoning rights from the developer. Drew Meredith, a former Whistler and real estate agent echoed this view in a letter to the SLRD board.

"I appreciate and support Whistler’s desire to expand their boundaries," he wrote. "However, when an expansion is intended to extinguish the rights of the affected property owners, with no good reason, I call foul."

Whistler’s reasons for the boundary expansion have been reiterated time and again. The municipality wants control over its watersheds but also wants to limit fringe development on its boundaries. Fringe development, said O'Reilly is a huge concern for Whistler.

O'Reilly said the expansion has been in the cards ever since Whistler began negotiating with the province during the Olympic bid phase. It was to be one of several legacies to Whistler for co-hosting the 2010 Games. In addition, he said for the nine years he has sat on the regional district board he has been calling for a regional growth strategy to address issues such as fringe development. That strategy began just last year.

Whistler is hoping to have an answer from the provincial government in March, which will allow them to increase the size of the municipality from 16,000 hectares to 27,000 hectares.

The SLRD's opposition and concerns will be forwarded to the provincial government for consideration.

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