Council agrees to consider OCP amendment
Chief Staff Writer
Two local developers may get a chance to open up hundreds of acres of new housing in the Garibaldi Highlands area sooner than expected - despite concerns that development might harm the Sea to Sky University (SSU) project.
Squamish council voted Tuesday (May 4) to consider Official Community Plan (OCP) amendments that would change the designation of District Lots 509, 510, and 513 from limited use to residential neighbourhoods.
DL 509 and 510 lie to the north of the Garibaldi Highlands and are owned by American property development and logging company Merrill & Ring (M&R). DL 513, located southeast of the Highlands, is owned by local company Coast Aggregates.
Don Corson of M&R wrote council on April 22 asking council to reactivate his company's previous application to amend the OCP.
In 2002, a furor erupted when Corson and Coast Aggregates requested the same change of the previous council and it began the process of amending the OCP.
Council abandoned the idea of OCP amendments after university supporters successfully lobbied against the change.
The SSU team said at the time, and continues to insist today, that the current development benchmarks in the OCP are important to the successful development of the university, which is planning to start land sales this fall on its lands east of the Highlands to finance construction of the university campus.
"We're not looking for preferential treatment," said SSU project team leader Peter Ufford Wed-nesday (May 5). "We're looking for them to follow the existing guidelines that were in place when we came in."
The current OCP, which was adopted in 1998 and is under review, suggests that no more major land areas will be considered for residential development until Squamish's population reaches the 20,000 mark. The SSU business plan is based on that growth strategy documented in the OCP.
As was the case in 2002, Ufford and the rest of the university team were not given any advance notice of council's intention to consider changing the land use designations for the large properties.
Ufford spoke to Sutherland about the issue on Wednesday and after that conversation, Ufford told The Chief that while he is comfortable with what is happening, he is still "very concerned" both about the consideration of OCP amendments and about the fact that SSU and other stakeholders were not consulted by council prior to its motion.
"It was unfortunate and he [Sutherland] was apologetic on the lack of communication," Ufford said.
Ufford said if the OCP were changed for the lots in question, it could put the timing of the university to open in 2006 at "serious risk".
"Our ability to open in 2006 relies upon our business plan, one third of which relies on market housing sales," he said.
He emphasized that he has complete confidence in council and the staff at Municipal Hall.
Sutherland said the process begun by council will extend over six or seven months and nothing will happen overnight.
"In actual fact if we had dealt with this in the actual timeline we would have finished with this by 2003," Sutherland said.
The OCP review, which was supposed to be completed last year, was actually triggered by the 2002 OCP amendment applications by M&R and Coast Aggregates.
"As you know, we supported the decision then to amend the OCP with the understanding that the process would take one year, and we continue to support the review," Corson wrote to council. "However, there is still much work to be done before the OCP review is completed."
Sutherland said he recognizes the frustration M&R is feeling with the OCP process so the decision was made to allow DL 509, 510 and 513 to come out of the OCP process so consideration of those three properties can take place parallel to the OCP review.
"We thought it was fair given the fact that we said we would deal with this in 2003 and it is now 2004," said Sutherland. "This gives them some certainty of timeline. By the end of 2004 their matter will be dealt with one way or another.
"The concern of Merrill and Ring that they expressed was what if this drags on until 2005. We wanted to make sure that Merrill & Ring and Bob Fast [of Coast Aggregates] or anyone else gets a fair chance to get their project before staff and council."
The mayor convinced Ufford that the move by council will not compromise the memorandum of understanding that exists between the SSU and the District of Squamish.
"I have no reason to think that the mayor or district staff would do anything to affect our project but indirectly it could have a major impact," Ufford said.
During council's debate of the M&R OCP amendment request, Coun. Raj Kahlon expressed concern.Sutherland emphasized to him and to council that by supporting the M&R request council is simply allowing the idea of an OCP amendment to be reviewed by staff so a recommendation can be brought to council for consideration. The mayor said M&R will have to demonstrate that if they get their OCP amendment their project will demonstrate significant community benefits.
In response to a report from SSU, council passed a motion in February of last year that "reasserts its intent to fully encourage and support the development and operation of the University and expeditiously consider applications for rezoning, development, and servicing of the University Lands; and further that Council confirms that, in order to be considered by Council, significant amendments to the OCP land use designations will have to demonstrate a significant community benefit as determined in the 2003 OCP bylaw review."