Although a tall chain link fence is being installed this week at the mountain biking trail access spot north of Perth Drive, landowner Bob Cheema said he will be leaving it unlocked – for now.
While the developer has allowed access to the land for the past 15 years, Cheema said roadblocks to development are forcing him to close the land for insurance reasons.
“Obviously it’s a big impact to our members,” said Squamish Off Road Cycling Association president Jeff Cooke. “There’s certainly an impetus on our side to take a leadership role in trying to come to some kind of agreement or solution that benefits everybody.”
In January, Cooke wrote a letter of support for Cheema’s proposed development plan, which would be a mixed-use development and “mountain biking hub” that would include a school.
Cheema has proposed to hand the trail land over to the District and invest up to to $1-million in preserving and updating the existing trail network.
“We’ve been fortunate over the last 15 years that he’s given access to the land,” Cooke said. “When you close off people are going to be immediately upset, but there’s a complicated story behind it and I encourage people to learn more about it.”
Meanwhile that complicated story – negotiations between the developer and council – has continued.
Cheema said that when he bought the original parcel of land in it was slated for residential development when the population reached 20,000. In 2009 the district council decided to increase it to 22,500.
Council is currently finalizing the new Official Community Plan, which is still going through a public consultation process. The draft version currently before council proposes development wait until 34,000 or 22,500 if it offers “extraordinary community benefits.”
Even if those population numbers are reached, the OCP includes six “precursors” that need to be fulfilled by council, including council adopting a district-wide wildfire protection plan and an affordable housing plan.
The OCP notes that the limits are meant to balance growth; making sure policy work is done and taxes don’t need to raised in order to pay for new infrastructure.
The agreement to leave the newly built fence unlocked was reached on Tuesday afternoon, but Cheema said that decision is not permanent.
“It is our contention that we have done all in our power to be transparent and communicative with the council and the Squamish community. However, the matter of the fact is the community’s voice and our own are being ignored,” said Cheema, in an emailed statement.
“As such, we want the public to know that our land is private land. This current situation is solely due to the fact that council continues to change the goal posts and has chosen to not follow its own previously set policies.”
The precursors and population threshold are not finalized and were not universally supported at council. As the policy moves to second reading the public will be able to further weigh in.
Cheema said criticism should be directed not at him, but at councillors Karen Elliott, Jason Blackman-Wulff or the Mayor for opposing the development.
Dwayne Kress, organizer of the Sp’akw’us 50 race, said he is currently pursuing permits for a trail that will bypass the Cheema lands for the sake of the race and connectivity.
“My reaction to the fencing is it is disappointing, but I have an obligation to focus on my event,” said Kress.