Construction on Taicheng Development Corp.’s huge project proposed in 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 to a large parcel of land south of Britannia Beach.
Board members were told that SLRD planners have met with the proponent several times as they work on a preliminary application. Taicheng’s proposal has changed slightly from its original vision.
SLRD planner Kim Needham on Monday said Taicheng is now focused on a single development plan that does not include building on properties currently considered non-settlement lands by the SLRD. Staff said that approach would not require a lengthy process to amend the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). The proponent’s end goal is a build-out of 3,000 residential units and more than 200,000 square feet of commercial space.
Taicheng bought the site, previously known as the Makin Lands and areas to the south, for $31.5 million in a court-ordered sale in August 2011.
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.
After Monday’s meeting, Area D director Moe Freitag said it’s too 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.”
Taicheng is looking to add two adjacent, 15-acre parcels to the development. It already owns one of those parcels and is looking to purchase a second from the Britannia Mine Museum, according to an SLRD staff report.
“If these lands do become part of Taicheng’s plan, they are proposed to accommodate 30 single family homes and eight townhouse units, plus a significant amount of green space. These residential units would be in addition to the already proposed 3,000 units,” the report stated.
Squamish directors Doug Race and Patricia Heintzman challenged staff’s assertion that the size of the development needn’t trigger an RGS amendment.
“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 just 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. He said processes are in place for a reason and that 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 the 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 about those elements of the project.
Representatives of the Squamish Nation and Sea to Sky School District are among the other stakeholders with whom Taicheng officials have met.
The SLRD expects to receive a full application from the proponent in early 2013, Needham said.