The formal vision to transform a small ski resort, nestled in the mountains between Mission and Agassiz, into one of the largest ski resorts in B.C. was recently passed by the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD).
Council adopted a new Official Community Plan (OCP) for the Hemlock Valley on March 17, setting out the blueprint to turn a 6,300-hectare area around Sasquatch Mountain Resort into a huge resort community.
“(The plans) present a compelling vision for a major expansion … that will, over time, transform Hemlock Valley into a dynamic four season resort community,” the OCP says, touting the benefits to the regional economy, tourism and outdoor recreation needs in the Fraser Valley.
Development of the 15 to 20-year OCP was triggered by the provincial government’s approval of the Berezan Group’s Hemlock Resort Master Plan in 2016 – a seven-year endeavor started after the resort was purchased in 2006.
The master plan’s projections have commercial and service space growing from 16,000 to 280,000 square feet in nine development nodes when the build-out is complete in some 50 years.
It aims to grow the resort’s daily visitor capacity from 1,600 to over 16,000, expand available bed units from 1,000 to nearly 20,000, and have 23 lifts and 283 runs over 1,100 hectares of ski terrain. Whistler Mountain, by comparison, has 1,382 hectares of ski terrain.
It’s a massive $1.5 billion long-term plan, encompassing an area spanning from the current ski lifts down to the shores of Harrison Lake, complete with restaurants, bars, golf courses, commercial and retail outlets, and administration and employee facilities.
The OCP is meant to serve as a “near to medium term” guideline for managing this growth. It divides Hemlock Valley into three distinct neighbourhood plans – Hemlock West, Hemlock East and Hemlock North – for land use planning, infrastructure and service requirements.
The build-out is planned in five phases, the first focusing on Hemlock West and expanding the immediate facilities with an estimated capital investment of $500 million.
Each phase will be contingent upon a slew of conditions and approvals from multiple government agencies, according to the OCP.
The developer signed on to official commitments as part of the provincial approval process, which were informed through consultations with the FVRD, local Indigenous governments and community stakeholders.
The commitments include balancing bed units to resort capacity, setting employee housing quotas, archaeological assessments, environmental management assessments and plans, traffic impact studies after each phase, and a host of other infrastructure upgrades and studies relating to water and sewer systems, energy use and safety.
Development proposals will only be considered after the commitments have been fulfilled to FVRD’s satisfaction, the OCP says.
There is even the possibility the area will need to be incorporated into a resort municipality, according to the OCP. It says as growth occurs, a future study will be needed to address the “ongoing questions” related to governance, administration and public services.
Challenges are also acknowledged in the OCP. Development will be taking place in sensitive alpine environments, there are limited infrastructure and community services, and the resort is far from urban centres.
“The costs and complexities of development will be high,” the OCP says, noting the FVRD’s tax base cannot afford to subsidize the infrastructure requirements.
“All development costs for Hemlock Valley, including the cost of comprehensive planning prior to development, must be borne by the resort developer.”
The OCP also states there are external variables associated with the long-term plan that can’t be controlled, such as local and regional economies, and the impact of global warming on the viability of the mountain resort.