The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board approved in pinciple the majority of its 2013 capital and operational budgets on Monday (Feb. 25), with the expectation being that there will not be an increase to overall tax requisitions for shared services this year.
SLRD chair Patricia Heintzman said the budget is “pretty much the same as last year,” with only a few budget areas yet to review, including general governance, the Sea to Sky Trail and the Pemberton and Area C Recreation budget.
“Overall the effect is no tax increase for this year,” she said. “There are a few decisions to make that may move it up a tiny bit, but overall the tax requisition on shared services is (unchanged from last year).”
Heintzman noted there are numerous specific services or utilities throughout the district that could see rate changes for users, but when it comes to shared services like planning, general governance and waste management, it looks to be on par with last year.
A committee of the whole meeting has been scheduled for March 11 to address the remaining budget items, including a request from the northern directors to put $75,000 towards economic development in that part of the district. That would form part of the general governance budget, and Heintzman said the initiative is a directive out of the regional growth strategy, which suggested augmenting development in the north would benefit the entire region.
At the Monday (Feb. 25) SLRD board meeting some budget items were debated including a proposed motion to add $20,000 to general governance for governance and boundaries work. Area A director Debbie Demare opposed the motion, saying there is still uncertainty around what those funds are to be used for.
“To this point I am unclear as to what exactly is the direction we are taking when we are talking about governance and boundaries,” she said. “I am really uncomfortable that we are carrying on assigning $20,000 in the budget and staff time without having a clear direction going forward.”
Area C director Susie Gimse agreed saying the board still needs to do a lot of work and has “been spending way too much time on this issue.”
“I feel that as a board each of us has a different idea of what governance and boundaries means,” Gimse said. “It has caused some issues in terms of how we do business and I really think we need to sit down as a board and start at ground zero.”
Chief Administrative Officer Lynda Flynn said staff would not undertake work on the issue of governance and boundaries until it has been given direction from the board.
The first phase of three of the governance and boundaries project began in 2010. The project was designed to identify and address issues of concern for member municipalities and the area’s First Nations.
According to the SLRD website phase one involved information gathering and issues identification, while phase two involved analyzing issues and developing options
Phase three, which the board has yet to complete, involves decision making.
While board members had decided previously to leave the PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) distribution unchanged this year after the District of Lillooet requested an additional $300,000, the subject continued to stir debate at the board table.
“The board has to address this inadequacy and come to the understanding that Lillooet is going ahead with their plans and that we are seeking to have a conversation with the board and to have a more equitable share of the PILT,” said Lillooet director Marg Lampman. “The north has been marginalized for so many years, going back to 1996 actually, and it is time that the north has a greater share in this.”
Lampman, Area B director Mickey Macri and Area A director Debbie Demare voted against the motion to approve the budget with the PILT allocation unchanged. Those funds are paid annually to the SLRD by BC Hydro in relation to the company’s operations in the district.
Demare reiterated that hydro installations in the north of the district affect those communities the most and they should receive more of the money as a result.
“The way the current PILT policy is distributed is not fair,” she said.
Macri made it clear to administration that this issue is to be addressed over the next year and before the next budget process. Macri added the northern directors are committed to getting together to discuss how that part of the district wants to address the issue.
Flynn confirmed it is one of the strategic priorities to address that policy this year, adding that part of the policy expires at the end of 2013.
A core services review, however, will not be part of the strategic priorities for 2013. Heintzman said the board recognizes the work has merit, but it was an issue of resources, including funding and the capacity of administration to handle the work load.
“It is one of those things that seems to be kicked off the priority list,” she said. “You have to weigh all the initiatives, work plans and capacity of staff to accomplish what you want to accomplish.”
While the budgeting process for regional districts is complicated and considers each service area as a separate entity, administration indicated the estimated 2013 capital budget to be $2.1 million and operational budget to be $14.1 million. The 2012 budgets are currently being amended, however staff indicated the capital budget last year was at approximately $3.3 million and operational at $15.9 million.
Zoning bylaw review includes neighbours
A review of the zoning bylaw for Area D will include neighbouring municipalities at the steering committee level.
The terms of reference for the review was in front of the SLRD board for approval when Pemberton director Jordan Sturdy suggested the committee include representation from adjacent communities to align the zoning bylaws.
Gimse noted that any land use zoning or bylaw review would be referred to neighbouring municipalities for input into the end result, while Area D director Mo Freitag expressed concerns about the term “align.”
Sturdy explained that areas where two zoning bylaws meet on a map should be given consideration as to what the differences are between those planning documents and strive for seamlessness for constituents.
Freitag and Squamish director Rob Kirkham were receptive to the idea, and the motion passed.
“We are touching boundaries and when we come together it is wise to have some alignment, although there are other areas that are distinct and as municipalities it is not up to us what happens there,” Kirkham said.
Agriculture insurance to be investigated
A provincial crop insurance designation for grape growing in the Lillooet Valley as being high risk is preventing economic development in that region according to one SLRD board member.
Area B director Macri brought the issue to the board, after being approached by Fort Berens vineyard to seek a resolution.
Macri explained the provincial designation means that grape growers in the region cannot obtain federal crop insurance — something Pemberton director Sturdy said is also an issue in the Spud Valley.
“Crop insurance is widely not available for specific crops where they don’t have data,” Sturdy said, adding while he can get insurance for potatoes he can’t for crops like strawberries, blueberries and sweet corn for example. “The Lillooet and Pemberton valleys are hampered by a lack of crop insurance, so to understand to expand that is worth doing.”
Macri put forward a successful motion for the SLRD to investigate the high-risk designation and how to remove it, adding it has limited economic development in the viticulture industry in his community.
Taichang Development Corporation’s proposed South Britannia development may not get underway until 2016, but it could take up to 100 years for it to reach build out according to an independent real estate consulting firm hired by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.
The SLRD board was provided with a n update on the development at its Monday (Feb. 25) meeting. A staff report detailed the ongoing work on the application since its last update in November.
The report noted several issues that need to be addressed before the developer can submit a complete application for rezoning and amendments to the SLRD’s Official Community Plan.
The SLRD staff report stated that two workshops since November have helped to resolve some issues, but others require continued study including transportation, site servicing for water, commercial space, hotel development, establishing a winery on site, developing a marina and residential density and mix.
The residential density, mix and build out were a subject of disagreement between the developer’s consultant, Site Economics Ltd., and independent real estate marketing firm Coriolis Consulting Corp. hired by the SLRD.
The project proposes 3,000 residential units, 2,000 more than what is currently supported in the OCP for the South Britannia plan area, and Site Economics supported an absorption rate of 300 units a year over 10 years. However, SLRD staff were concerned about the proposed mix and estimated absorption rate being projected.
Coriolis factored in concerns about already approved developments competing for the same market share, and predicted it could optimistically take 30 to 35 years to reach build-out, but under a more conservative absorption scenario the consultants predicted it would take up to 100 years.
The disagreement resulted in a third contractor, Harris Consulting Inc., being hired January to recommend a development strategy that addresses market uncertainty.
That report recommended the developer complete a neighbourhood on the portion of the site that includes the village core and accommodates 1,000 to 1,200 residential units, with between 65 to 70 per cent being ground-floor oriented. The units, states the report, could be absorbed by the market over as few as 10 years. The developer is continuing more in-depth market analysis.
A preferred site plan, according to the report, has been selected, including road layouts, parcel size and shapes, and distribution of land uses. However, the report pointed out the plan makes assumptions about things like mix of residential units, access and egress.
Director Sturdy expressed a desire for the board to be in a position to influence how the development is accessed.
“I believe the discussion of access and egress is critical for progress and the ultimate character of this particular proposal and I think we should drive that decision as opposed to accept it,” he said.
In addition to the progress on the plan, the report noted the developer is currently in discussions with the Britannia Museum about possibly acquiring a 6.3 hectare parcel of land adjacent to the Taicheng property owned by the museum.