Chilliwack had one of the largest gains in population among B.C. cities between 2006 and 2011, jumping 12.6 per cent to 77,936, according to a recent Statistics Canada report.
Squamish had the largest population gain in the province with 14.6 per cent.
“It’s not surprising,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz said, about Chilliwack’s reported growth.
And the city has been preparing for such a population increase, she said, using a larger figure of 82,000 as a planning target.
“We believe, as do most municipalities, that growth needs to pay for itself,” Gaetz said.
Development cost charges (DCCs) are used to pay for new roads, sewers and water services as the city grows to take the burden off taxpayers.
“We’re growing not only by attracting more people here, but we’re also growing from within,” Gaetz pointed out.
More than 15,000 children of Fraser Valley families are attending university classes at UFV, staying home instead of moving out of the area.
“That’s a new trend, something we haven’t seen before,” Gaetz said.
Only 13 per cent of the city’s population leaves the community to work or to shop, according to a regional transit study.
The low cost of housing, the low cost of living, the proximity to natural attractions like the mountains and Cultus Lake, plus the lure of Chilliwack’s “small-town flavour” are all attracting new residents here, the mayor said.
How to keep that small-town feel – “that’s going to be our challenge as we get bigger,” Gaetz said.
Planning is the key, and the city is currently working on its official community plan, which was last updated 12 years ago in 1998.
To protect farm land, population growth will need to be directed to the city’s urban corridor, using higher density residential developments, and to the nearby hillsides.
“Every neighbourhood will be called upon to take their share in a way that fits with the official community plan,” Gaetz said. “We can’t just pull up the moat and say, ‘No one else.'”
According to the StatsCan report, Abbotsford’s population grew by 7.4 per cent to 133,497 and Maple Ridge’s by 10.3 per cent to 76,052.
Port Moody and Surrey had the largest population gains in Metro Vancouver, jumping by 19.9 per cent and 18.6 per cent respectively.
B.C.’s total population grew by seven per cent to 4.4 million.