It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Squamish residents said.
At a public hearing on Tuesday (Nov. 20), a wave of supporters backed a proposal to build some of Squamish’s first supportive housing units. The Centerpoint proposal marks a partnership between the Squamish United Church and Sea to Sky Community Services Society (SSCSS) to pooling their land and resources in developing a new church and community services building.
The development is slated for church land at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Victoria Street. The facility includes a community hall, three storeys of SSCS offices, program rooms and seven supportive housing units for people with developmental disabilities. If approved, in the future the building’s users would have the option of expanding to a fourth and fifth storey for more social housing.
It’s a chance for the SSCSS to combine its resources under one roof, while the building hands Squamish a community hall and the church gets a new sanctuary, said Squamish resident Ken Tanner, who for the past four years has helped fundraise for the project.
“This is the perfect storm, except all the components of this storm are good things,” he told the District of Squamish council.
One per cent of the population has developmental disabilities, SSCSS capital campaign coordinator Estelle Taylor said. That equals roughly 300 Sea to Sky corridor residents, she noted.
The project’s proponents want to accommodate the community’s future growth, Taylor said. Building a structure that allows for the addition of two storeys later on costs more than simply building a three-storey building, she noted. The foundation and structure has to be stronger and thicker. Given that fact, SSCSS and the United Church need the district’s assurance that they will be able to follow through with the plan’s final phases, Taylor said.
While most speakers supported the community services concept, the building’s proposed height caused some ripples of concern. Squamish’s Official Community Plan (OCP) recommends a maximum height of four storeys for downtown buildings, said Eric Andersen, a former director of Squamish’s Downtown Neighbourhood Association. The district’s more than seven-year-old downtown neighbourhood plan policy is still in draft form, he added.
With no concrete planning policy in place, district officials need to take into account the “big picture,” Andersen said. The community services centre proposal is a serious departure from the OCP and could set a precedent, he warned.
“The fact is, there is no agreed-upon vision,” Andersen said.
Plopping a five-storey building in a single-family neighbourhood will decrease local property values, Squamish resident Deb McBride said. The church could sell its lots and build the project elsewhere, she noted.
“We are paying higher taxes and losing property values and losing our million-dollar views,” McBride said.
The fear of plummeting lot values doesn’t hold much weight in reality, said Peter Gordon, the chair of the United Church’s board of trustees.
Increased density and renewal of downtown will likely increase prices, he said. The proponents are looking at the proposal as a “100-year project,” Gordon said, noting it includes opportunities for expansion as the community grows. With a limited land base, going vertical makes sense, he said. Higher portions of the building are stepped back from its outer edges, to limit the visual impact on neighbours, Gordon added.
The proposal must now go before council for to see if it receives third and final approval.