GEMS school could be in jeopardy

McIvor points finger at Melamed as leading charge against approval of neighbourhood plan

By Jesse Ferreras

GEMS is getting impatient in its drive to put a school in Pemberton.

The company issued a news release recently in which it expressed concern with the pace of zoning approvals at the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. The SLRD’s approval is required in order for the school to be located on a site near the Pemberton Hillside.

“We have watched the process stall and are informed that the greater project appears to be opposed by the SLRD board which is, in itself, very disappointing,” Ian Rysdale, senior director for pre-operations at GEMS, said in the news release.

“We firmly believe that both the Pemberton and Whistler communities would benefit from an outstanding school being established in the area. The success of a school in this location is largely dependent on the proposed recreation, residential development and the projected growth of the region as indicated in our feasibility study.”

GEMS is looking to establish an international private school on a property near the Hillside, about four kilometres east of the Village of Pemberton. It lies outside the village boundaries and is thus subject to approvals by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

The school is expected to attract students from around the world and teach them in a system that incorporates elements from education programs such as International Baccalaureate, the American Curriculum and the Ontario Curriculum. The program stresses the values of world citizenship, universal values, leadership qualities and forward thinking.

The GEMS school has obtained a non-farm use permit from the Agricultural Land Commission on the condition that it set aside two hectares of the best soils on the site for an agricultural education program and that it consult with the Lil’wat First Nation so that its young people can participate in the program.

The school, however, has yet to move through the SLRD’s zoning process despite applying last July. School proponent Cam McIvor said that’s because the board refuses to approve a Neighbourhood Concept Plan for the site that would allow residential development as part of the Sunstone Ridge proposal.

The board’s reticence to approve a concept plan could put the school in jeopardy, he said.

“The SLRD board has basically chosen not to move forward with the advancement of a NCP for that area,” McIvor said. “As per their various planning documents, the Area C OCP states that that area should be planned together in a comprehensive neighbourhood plan to ensure a good result to the development in the school and the recreation area.”

Asked why it hasn’t been approved, McIvor said it’s because the SLRD board is made up of representatives of neighbouring communities such as Lillooet, Whistler and Squamish. He said the wishes of Pemberton representatives are “not being honoured in the process.”

“Principally, (Whistler Mayor) Ken Melamed has led the charge against any development and the school in that area,” he said. “There’s other members, I don’t know the exact voting, but he has been the most vocal against the project.”

Melamed is on vacation until May 18 and so wasn’t available for comment. However, in a previous story he said he’s worried about Pemberton experiencing “down valley syndrome,” a trend observed in Colorado where rising real estate prices in resort towns have had a domino effect on neighbouring communities.

“The issue exists with or without the GEMS school, in my view,” he said previously. “The school just accelerates the demand or the need.”

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