South Britannia build-out still years away

Construction would begin no sooner than 2016; board discusses incorporation of region

Construction on Taicheng's proposed development at South Britannia is still more than three years from getting started if all goes as planned, but expect more discussion about incorporating the area as the project moves forward.

Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) directors learned at Monday's (Nov. 26) board meeting that 2016 is the earliest projected start date for construction on the development, which is proposing to bring thousands of residential units and commercial space inventory.

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Board members were told that SLRD planners have met with the proponent several times as they work on a preliminary application, and that Taicheng's proposal has changed slightly from its original vision.

Planner Kim Needham indicated that Taicheng is now focused on a single development plan that does not include building on properties currently considered non-settlement lands by the SLRD, as staff said this approach would not require a lengthy process to amend the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). The proponent's end goal is build-out of 3,000 residential units and more than 200,000 square feet of commercial space on the former Makin lands.

Since the development has the potential to drastically increase the area's population, board directors were already discussing incorporation of the Britannia area at Monday's meeting. A report compiled by a consultant hired by the SLRD said a fully-occupied community housing 8,000 people would "go beyond the current capability of the SLRD to manage."

"Obviously, if these lands move forward, there will be a significant increase in population that does warrant the incorporation of the area," said board chair Susie Gimse.

Following Monday's meeting, Area D director Moe Freitag said it's still early to be talking about a population boom in South Britannia if construction is still years away. However, he expects a new municipality to be established south of Squamish eventually.

"Inevitably, that's what's going to happen in that area," he said. "Whether or not this is the catalyst for it or not, I'm not certain."

Both Squamish directors Doug Race and Patricia Heintzman challenged staff's assertion that no RGS amendment should be required due to the size of the development.

"You're talking 8,000 people here - another city the size of Whistler," said Race, adding that he wasn't advocating for or against the project yet.

"To me, that's what the Regional Growth Strategy is for - to look at developments like this and decide whether or not they are desirable."

Freitag said he disagreed with that assertion, that processes are in place for a reason and Taicheng's proposal should be allowed to go through them like any other.

"Interpretation should be left amongst the experts, which would be planners. The interpretation of the RGS should not be left amongst politicians to decide at this stage," he said.

"I always question when elected officials start wanting to move the goalposts and start to re-hash things. It's very clear that this group came forward to the board, and the board said 'This sounds interesting.'"

Heintzman told the board she was concerned that the amount of proposed commercial space wouldn't be enough to support employment for 8,000 residents. Freitag said he agreed and had already passed that thought along to developers during an open house about the project earlier this year.

Official Community Plan and zoning amendments will be required if the current South Britannia proposal is to go forward, and Taicheng will have to address several unresolved technical issues along the way. Highway 99 alignment and access points are some of the biggest issues and could impact the eventual layout of the proposal. Needham said Taicheng has already engaged the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on those elements of the project.

Needham said the SLRD expects to receive a full application from the proponent in early 2013.

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