Squamish council was not being anti-development, or putting up a “closed for business” sign, last week when it rejected a motion that would have lifted a municipal population cap on a parcel of land north of Garibaldi Highlands. It was acting in the best interest of citizens by following a policy put in place as a way to manage future growth.
It’s not surprising that Robert Cheema — the owner of the 450-acre parcel who asked for the change in September 2012 — would make such a request. After all, his is the only piece of residential land that, according to the Official Community Plan, can’t be considered for development until Squamish’s population (now about 17,500) reaches 22,500.
It’s also not surprising that a council elected with an economic development mandate — and on a promise to ensure that municipal hall would become far more developer-friendly than it had been previously — would at least entertain the idea of lifting the cap. What is a bit surprising is that such a measure would garner three votes at the council table — one shy of passage — when it seems clear to this writer that lifting the cap was not in the broader community’s best interest.
Coun. Ron Sander’s argument that lifting the cap would not, by itself, have triggered immediate development, while true, missed the point, in this writer’s view. Cheema purchased the land knowing full well that the population cap was in place. No doubt most who bought homes in the northern Highlands in recent years did so on the assumption it would likely be several more years until that land could be developed, if it ever is.
It’s not like Squamish is the only town with restrictions on certain parcels because of a public desire to manage growth. This one isn’t particularly onerous, in fact: the land retains its long-term value even with the cap in place. As Coun. Patricia Heintzman said, such a cap “is a totally acceptable way to put parameters on our growth.”
The proposal, though, should serve as a wake-up call to those who cherish the great recreational trails in the area, and others that cross private land elsewhere. The District of Squamish and trails groups need to sit down with the likes of Mr. Cheema to discuss how the long-term interests of all involved can best be accommodated.
— David Burke