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Highlands council taking deeper dive into survey data before local area plan moves forward

More detail on public engagement sought before council gives staff direction on plan
The District of Highlands continues to make progress on the South Highlands Local Area Plan, and Mayor Ken Williams said his hope is it will be completed later this year. (Black Press Media file photo)

The District of Highlands continues to make progress on the South Highlands Local Area Plan (LAP), but council has decided to seek additional information before providing direction on next steps.

On Monday, council was asked by staff to select one of three options which would provide high-level guidance for the staff and consultants at Barefoot Planning and Design, currently developing a draft of the plan. The options were related to planned land use in the Gateway area and council had a choice of directing planners to incorporate a policy of no new development, low impact development, or to maintain the existing policy for the land.

Council instead voted to defer the decision.

“We wanted some more information because we are still early in this,” Mayor Ken Williams said. “We are asking to see all the raw data and comments (from the second round of public surveys).”

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Regardless which direction council tells planners to pursue in the local area plan, it remains in the early stages and requires more discussion and public consultation before a draft plan is presented to council to approve later this year.

In development since summer 2019, the LAP forms part of the district’s 2019-23 Strategic Plan. Once completed, it will compliment the existing Official Community Plan and contribute to the OCP’s upcoming review.

“It’s our vision for the future in terms of what the southern Highlands Gateway will look like,” Williams said. “It’s planning the future of that area.”

On Monday, council also received a report outlining the feedback collected by the LAP task force over two years of meetings, public surveys and stakeholder interviews, all of which will be used to help draft the plan.

Early feedback focused on identifying issues, opportunities and desired amenities.

Issues included the need to protect groundwater, balance environmental protection with development, maintain a rural character, the lack of pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and safety on narrow roads.

Opportunities included traffic calming to mitigate speeding, a separated multi-use trail parallel to Millstream Road, low-impact development and stronger links to Thetis Lake Regional Park. Desired amenities included parks and greenspace, increased mobility for non-motorists, a park and ride station, affordable housing, playgrounds, a recreation centre and recycling facilities.

That early feedback was refined into core planning values during the second round of feedback collection, which include watershed health and protection, environmental health and conservation, community safety, rural lifestyle and limited, low-impact development.

The requested additional information is expected to be prepared quickly, Williams said, allowing council to provide its guidance equally quickly. The hope is that the plan can be finalized with formal public consultation sessions and council approval by the summer.

“We would like to encourage as much public participation as possible,” he said.

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Justin Samanski-Langille

About the Author: Justin Samanski-Langille

I moved coast-to-coast to discover and share the stories of the West Shore, joining Black Press in 2021 after four years as a reporter in New Brunswick.
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