A construction worker walks around the back of a home off Marble Hill Road on Wednesday morning.

Chilliwack hillsides plan takes servicing into account

A more viable comprehensive area plan for Chilliwack's Eastern Hillsides was received by city council on Tuesday.

A more viable comprehensive area plan for Chilliwack’s Eastern Hillsides was received by city council on Tuesday.

“It’s a much more sustainable plan than we’ve had in the past,” director of development Karen Stanton told council during a presentation.

Buildout potential on the hillsides was reduced to 1,700 homes for about 4,000 people — less than a third of what was envisioned in the mid-1990s.

The plan has been in the works for a year and a half, with input from staff, various experts, and residents who attended open house events.

What’s different is that it takes the real costs of servicing and infrastructure into account.

The 4000-people mark was pegged as the threshold at which infrastructure costs would rise “significantly,” creating uncertainty as to how those costs could be shared equitably, she said.

“In 2010, staff began to look at how we could integrate updated expectations around the size of the community, with a servicing strategy ensuring cost recovery in place to support it,” Stanton said.

They looked at available capacity to support growth, especially in terms of the geo-technical limitations “especially” around Panorama Heights, as well as looking at environmental and market forces.

Topography in the hillside regions can be “very steep” with 45 per cent of the land at more than 30 per cent grade, which is not considerable suitable for development, she said.

There’s also a scenario in the plan’s appendix that looks at up to 6,000 homes, but it’s contingent on about $20 million in infrastructure money being produced “up front” for rebuilding Annis Road and changes to Prairie Central Road.

Mayor Gaetz thanked staff for the area plan, “for giving the residents and developers of the area an idea of what is attainable.

“I know there was some arm-wrestling over this, so thanks for taking the calm approach.”

After the council meeting she said that council had not specifically discussed what the impact the revised plan might have on land prices.

“We didn’t have that talk, but two areas that will be impacted are those who bought land on speculation, thinking they would be able to achieve higher densities,” said Gaetz. “And the second is residents, who I think will be pleased with this decrease in density. It will probably be more expensive to purchase land but it will be for the niche market.”

It’s “too late” to go back and collect infrastructure monies from older developments, Gaetz pointed out.

“So obviously this put pressure on the community to densify in other places to attain our regional growth targets. We still hold tight to the ideal of protecting farmland but there has to be recognition that it is more expensive because of infrastructure and terrain challenges to build in the mountains.”

The hillsides plan is expected to go to public hearing after an open house is held Dec. 1. Then it comes to council for final approval and then OCP amendments could be presented sometime in 2012.

Councillor Chuck Stam reminded everyone that the approval by council was to receive the presentation, not to approve the plan, and that a public hearing on it was still more than a month away.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/CHWKjourno

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