One year later, downtown dreams still live

Ideas for Frontier Street in air as local officials continue to address issues

What does the future hold for Pemberton's downtown?

Just over a year ago, public workshops devoted to talking about Pemberton's downtown sparked discussions of visions, dreams and principles for the Village core, and informed the creation of a Downtown Enhancement Strategy.

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Now, Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce President Paul Vacirca says he's excited about the next steps and prospects for Pemberton's downtown, and he's pleased with the opportunities for feedback that the downtown businesses have been given so far.

"Out of that session last summer, it got us thinking about what we could be," and how to address issues such as parking requirements that are getting in the way of that potential, Vacirca said.

The Downtown Enhancement Strategy, prepared by urban planning and design consultant Michael von Hausen with the Village's development services department, came together last year after a series of workshops drew enthusiastic and idea-filled groups of approximately 25 participants.

The strategy identifies immediate and mid- and long-term actions to help create Pemberton's preferred downtown, and a set of 10 key principles for the core. Those ideas include the creation of a "strong sense of arrival" and a reflection of Pemberton's "authentic identity"; the improvement of parking and transit facilities; the protection and promotion of Pemberton's natural assets; the provision of a mix of land uses at greater densities; and the development of open spaces that are "great, focused and designed" as well as greater pedestrian, bike and stroller accessibility.

Caroline Lamont, the Village's manager of development services, said several of the items on the list of immediate actions will be addressed within the upcoming push to plan a vision for the Frontier Street lands. The Village issued a request for proposals, which closed in mid-May, for the creation of a "detailed design and implementation plan" for a 1.2-hectare site with the parking area, vacant lot and park.

Right now, Lamont said, "the big focus is Frontier Street." The overlay of plans for elements such as sidewalks and trails would be a next step for the downtown, but she said there's a belief that Frontier Street needs to be settled first - it's such a big parcel, one that connects parks, and it has a big part to play in the public-space questions.

"Frontier Street will have so many good things going on," Lamont said, pointing to the area's possibilities for a good sense of arrival in the downtown, open and green spaces, parking that's more green, a greater emphasis on pedestrians and links to trails. "It is the everything."

Meanwhile, Lamont said some of the other issues on the short-term list are being addressed within the Village's update of its Official Community Plan, a draft of which is expected to be ready for community feedback in June.

The call for a mix of land uses at increased densities is one of those points, she said, and the public consultation process for the OCP also produced good feedback about improvements for pedestrian, bike and stroller friendliness.

The development of more appealing open spaces is part of the Frontier Street planning and was also addressed in the Speak Up Pemberton OCP consultation sessions, Lamont said. One of the single most emphasized points in those sessions was the need to activate Pioneer Park, making it "more of a community park," she said.

Once the OCP update and Frontier Street plan are complete, Lamont said she plans to focus more on the downtown strategy in the fall. Creating the strategy was the first step, where nothing existed before, and its principles are rolled into the OCP, she said.

Vacirca said there's been "quite a bit" of activity relating to the downtown enhancement strategy over the past year. He said he started working with Lamont last fall on ideas, and there have been "lots of opportunities" for the downtown core businesses to offer input, assuaging early concerns.

Vacirca applauded Lamont's efforts to research ideas and elements from other small communities that could be applied in Pemberton. Cool themes for community signage and décor, handing of sidewalks and boardwalks, subtle uses of murals on walls or lighting to create a sense of a western adventure town vibrant ideas are out there for Pemberton's picking.

Vacirca said he also appreciates Lamont's investigations of financing options that could help foot the bill for future projects, which was one of the next steps listed at the close of the Downtown Enhancement Strategy. He said there are still many questions to address, and he knows there could be costs to him as a taxpayer and manager of the Home Hardware, but he's prepared for that and excited about the possibilities for creating the "coolest little town."

"The Chamber and the downtown core are very excited about the initiatives Caroline is taking, and the feedback we've been given the opportunity to (share)," Vacirca said.

One of the original aspects of the Downtown Enhancement Strategy that excited Vacirca was the unity that developed among the downtown businesses, which aren't galvanized together as a group. Lamont said she thinks they should look at starting a business improvement area for the downtown, adding that it's important that the downtown to become something that businesses champion instead of the Village.

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy stressed the importance of having good information to back future planning, for the downtown and otherwise. He said that's why Village staff members are beginning to conduct an internal census count by going door to door in Pemberton, trying to get an accurate picture of the current population size, and why the Village is pursuing a study of projected commercial space requirements.

The door-to-door census is about doing "a better job planning for the community's future," Sturdy said. He said there are some questions as to whether the federal census figures on Pemberton's population are completely accurate, given that the demand on services consistently seems to exceed the population that the Canadian census counted.

Sturdy said he expects the commercial space needs study to help inform future progress on the downtown enhancement plans, by creating a full assessment of the current and projected demand and helping to resolve questions of adequate parking and, in turn, creating walkable communities.

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