A clash in the District of Squamish council chambers awoke residents to the vulnerability of the area's famed trails.
On Tuesday (Dec. 3), council considered Official Community Plan amendments that would have lifted a DOS-imposed population cap on 450 acres of property, opening the door to residential development before Squamish reaches 22,500 residents. The area, situated north of Garibaldi Highlands and west of Mashiter Creek, is home to popular mountain biking and walking trails, including Entrails, Room with a View and Roller Coaster, part of the annual Test of Metal mountain bike race.
Last summer, speaking on behalf of the land's owner, Robert Cheema, Urbanics Consultants Ltd. president Philip Boname told municipal officials the requirement was unfair. At the time, Cheema was proposing to amend the growth management strategy to pave the way for a 240-unit, single-family residential development on a portion of the land.
It's an eye-opener for recreational users who have been allowed to trespass on the property for years, Coun. Bryan Raiser said.
“I am glad the community is starting to realize how significant the land issues are around these trails,” he said before council voted 4-3 not to approve the OCP amendments.
Trails aside, Raiser noted the property is not serviced by the district. Municipal funds are spread thin maintaining existing infrastructure, let alone having to add new servicing to the mix, he said.
Lifting the cap would send the wrong message to the landowner, he added. The developer could then pour his money into a sub-area plan, only to face the prospect of being denied development rights down the road, Raiser said.
The policy changes aren't about development, Coun. Ron Sander warned council. Approving the amendments wasn't approving construction, he said, noting any proposal would still have to go through the regular municipal channels. This particular property would trigger a sub-area plan. No other property in Squamish falls under the same population cap, Sander added.
Having seen the outpouring of responses from residents currently using the property for recreation, as a landowner himself, Sander said it makes him second-guess granting people access to his land.
A population cap is a good tool to manage the community's future direction, Coun. Patricia Heintzman said.
“It is a totally acceptable way to put parameters on our growth,” she said.
Councillors Raiser, Heintzman, Ted Prior and Susan Chapelle voted against the policy changes, with Mayor Rob Kirkham and councillors Doug Race and Sander in favour.