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Public resistant to new development

Silverback, a 400-acre, 1,600-unit development that could potentially increase the population of Sechelt by 50 per cent, met with public resistance at this week's District of Sechelt planning meeting.

Silverback, a 400-acre, 1,600-unit development that could potentially increase the population of Sechelt by 50 per cent, met with public resistance at this week's District of Sechelt planning meeting.

Concerns were raised by citizens over the sheer size of the development and its impact on the services in Sechelt, limited public consultation, limited affordable housing allocation, road access to the development, the possibility of short-term rental suites on site, water servicing and full-time occupancy loads.

The advisory planning committee recommended council deny the application based on many of these concerns and strongly recommended council "proceed with caution when considering projects of this magnitude." The East Porpoise Bay Ratepayers Association also had similar concerns and asked for more public consultation on the development before it proceeds. However, council decided to grant first reading of the proposal and send it to public hearing.

"If we look at our procedures, there are steps in a venture like this for the community to be heard," said Mayor Cam Reid. "If we turn it down at this point, we don't fulfill the role of council. Ours is to take this to the community to hear from them and then make a decision."

The Silverback development is proposed to sit between Porpoise Bay Provincial Park and Sandy Hook. The plan has undergone some changes since the last public information meeting held on the property in April.

The development includes an 18-hole golf course, clubhouse, 1,600 single-family and multiple-family residences, a commercial sector, a hotel and a conference room. It will also contain its own sewer and water services.

The changes since April's meeting include an increase in units to 1,600 from 1,480, a cap on buildings at six storeys rather than 12 storeys, an increase in the affordable housing land designation from two acres to 4.3 acres, a municipal land designation meant to house a satellite fire station, a new salmon spawning channel and reconfiguration of the tourist/commercial sector along the waterfront.

The planning committee questioned the 4.3-acre affordable housing designation, saying four out of 400 acres is not adequate in scale or location as it is proposed entirely in one area.

Issues around increased traffic on Sechelt Inlet Road and congestion at the Wharf Road turn-off were raised at the July 11 planning meeting. However, proponents said they plan a new access to Sechelt Inlet Road through Sechelt Indian Band lands.

Concerns still remain around the capability of Sechelt Inlet Road to service the increased traffic, pedestrian and bicycle use. Project manager Art Phillips said the development would follow the Predator Ridge model, which shows occupancy on site at about 25 to 30 per cent year round, limiting strain on the roadway.

"With this development we project up to 30 per cent traffic use and our traffic report looked at up to 50 per cent usage. We're looking at under 700 occupancy on a year-round basis," Phillips said.

Councillors questioned that figure.

"If all the units get built out, there could be 100 per cent occupancy. I'm not sure how you could limit that," Coun. Mike Shanks said.

Phillips noted the resort would not draw people year round, suggesting people may buy quarter shares in units to use as vacation homes. He also said multi-family units not in use could go into a "rental pool" to be used by the hotel for overflow of guests when needed.

That point brought up the fear of short-term rental type accommodations in the area, which is something the community lobbied against a few years ago.

Some residents in the gallery raised concerns over lack of public consultation on the revised plan, asking for more time to speak directly with the developer and have outstanding issues resolved.

"It seems to me the public is crying out for more consultation on this project," Shanks said.

Phillips noted the proponents had nine public information meetings on the project since last year, naming three publicly advertised meetings, three Sechelt Indian Band meetings, two Rotary Club meetings and one meeting with the East Porpoise Bay Ratepayers Association.

Councillors were not satisfied with the number of meetings that have already taken place, saying the plans have changed and another meeting is in order.

"In a sense the community has not seen the final plan, and if we take this to public hearing it will allow us to hear what the whole community thinks," Coun. Darren Inkster said.

Still other councillors felt they had already heard the public's views on the development.

"I don't think we as a community are ready, let alone prepared for a development of this magnitude it's too much, too big, too soon. We already have enough developments on our books to last us 10 years or so. It's a question of what kind of community we want to become I would ask council to reject the application. I can't support it," Coun. Warren Allan said to applause from the audience.

Coun. Keith Thirkell agreed, saying he didn't see Sechelt Inlet Road as being able to support the increase in traffic.

"It's basically a dead end street and it's asking too much from the community. Basically, I'm not in favour," he said.

After much debate, Reid asked the proponent to hold another public information meeting before the district's public hearing on the proposal. When the vote was cast to recommend first reading and referral to a public hearing, all but Allan and Thirkell were in favour.

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