Skip to content

Growth and affordability are concerns for Squamish’s Garibaldi Estates

District of Squamish staff report on locals' input regarding the upcoming neighbourhood plan.
The blue area is the region of the upcoming Garibaldi Estates plan.

Concerns about growth, including housing affordability, a shortage of family doctors and increased traffic, were all on display as District staff revealed findings from their discussions with residents about the future of the Garibaldi Estates.

On May 10, municipal staff summarized the findings of the District’s small group conversations engagement regarding the Estates.

Planner Matt Gunn said that they heard from a number of different demographics of people.

This included healthcare professionals, first responders, business owners, seniors, youth, non-market housing residents, housing advocates and more.

They were consulted on their concerns and desires for the Garibaldi Estates. This consultation is meant to help inform the area’s upcoming neighbourhood plan, which, when completed, will act as a blueprint for potential future development in those lands.

This particular neighbourhood planning process has a special significance in that it follows in the wake of an outcry against density that occurred late last year.

Residents of the Estates organized a public town hall and created a movement called Stop the Infill to voice their displeasure with the idea of densifying their neighbourhood.

The District has emphasized, however, that the outcome of the neighbourhood planning process is not predetermined and that extensive consultation will occur before any plan is finalized.

The findings that Gunn presented on May 10 are but one stage of the consultation process that the District is hosting with the community.

Gunn summarized results from the groups that spoke with the District.

He started by summarizing comments from critical service providers, like doctors, RCMP, conservation officers, hospital staff and dentists, among others.

“Population growth has led to significant pressure on critical services,” said Gunn.

“High housing costs impact the ability to attract and retain staff and [remain] significant challenges for many critical service providers. Housing costs resulting in high turnover, the loss of experienced staff and the inability to expand to meet the existing demand. We are facing a primary medical care crisis. Many residents do not have family doctors.”

The next group, businesses, were of the opinion that growth in Squamish will offer new opportunities for new and existing businesses, Gunn reported.

“The Garibaldi Estates is a good place for businesses due to its central location, easy access, parking and strong commercial presence,” he said, summarizing the opinions.

He noted that one concern was the lack of employment space, which that group believed is restricting business opportunities.

Housing affordability came up again as a limiting factor in attracting and retaining employees, Gunn noted.

“Businesses identified the Garibaldi Estate’s neighborhoods [as offering] significant opportunities for housing diversity,” said Gunn.

“Diversity in this area would support both employees and the customer base. And, in particular, affordable housing would provide the most support for employees.”

Those in the non-market housing demographic also gave feedback, he said.

“Our high housing prices are having significant negative impacts on vulnerable populations in our community,” said Gunn. “These individuals are first forced to work multiple jobs…live in substandard housing, sacrifice purchases for necessities…remain in unsafe housing situations, contend with…insecurity and or leave the community.”

Respondents opined that the Garibaldi Estates could be an ideal location for non-market housing, he said.

“The Garibaldi Estates is an ideal location for non-market housing given the walkable access to recreation, meeting spaces, groceries, schools.”

Seniors, Gunn noted, were concerned about growth, frustrated about parking and had mixed opinions regarding the future of the Estates.

They argued in favour of more senior-appropriate housing in the area and spoke of the importance of transit, Gunn said.

Youth valued the small town atmosphere, the outdoors, as well as walkability and transit.

There was a desire for indoor commercial spaces where people could meet and hang out. This included a mall, a bowling alley, an arcade and theatre.

They were also in favour of diverse sports options, Gunn said.

There was also discussion about traffic concerns and the use of the land, especially those falling under the Veterans’ Land Act, for growing food.

Council was invited to give feedback on the matter.

Mayor Karen Elliott said she was in favour of transit density along the current and anticipated transit lines.

She also had ideas about employment space in the area.

“I think the piece around the employment density of the mall is critical,” said Elliott. “I feel like that is a very low-density employment space that has a lot of room for improvement. I don’t love the idea of mixing office with retail and residential. It hasn’t worked well downtown. I think an office-only use is really important at that mall.”

Coun. John French mentioned that he learned a lot about food production in the Estates.

“The amount of backyard food production that I’m learning about, particularly in the VLA area has been eye opening — I just didn’t realize that there was that much happening in those backyards,” said French.

“As we proceed to scenario development, I’d like to see particularly the VLA lands that aren’t adjacent to the commercial zone at Garibaldi Village identified as properties of urban food production potential.”

He said he’d like to see mention of tiny homes as an acceptable accessory dwelling unit that would fit in that neighbourhood.

Traffic was on the mind of Coun. Armand Hurford.

“I’m having a hard time reconciling whether we create the traffic and then try to deal with it, versus looking at what the realistic capacities of the system are — with minor upgrades — and then work backwards from what that scenario would allow.”

He said he wanted to ensure developers have the ability to deal with the additional traffic generated by their projects.

Coun. Chris Pettingill said that density appears to be misconstrued with building height. He said that there’s a way to add density into the area without creating the towering buildings that people are concerned about.

Coun. Eric Andersen commented on the idea of gentle density.

“Regarding gentle density…[one] of the comments that I noted [is]: ‘The missing middle can’t be solved on the backs of legacy neighbourhoods,’” said Andersen. “I’m somewhat sympathetic to this. It’s unnecessary for us to be heavy-handed.”

Housing security was one of the issues that Coun. Jenna Stoner mentioned.

“I do know that some of the properties in this area have rental zoning protection that we put in place earlier in this term,” said Stoner. “And that’s just one component that I would want to review at a future date — just making sure that there’s tenancy security if and when those buildings end up going for redevelopment that the folks in those buildings have first right of refusal.”

Only one resident was in the audience of council chambers during the meeting. She later spoke with The Squamish Chief.

Jill Dunnigan, a resident of the Estates, said she was pleased with the effort going into addressing potential traffic issues.

However, she was concerned that the municipality wasn’t paying enough attention to the amount of food being grown on VLA land.

“The land has been protected by this bylaw for decades from further subdivision, as well as medium to high density,” said Dunnigan.

“Gentle density is allowed. And it is happening in an organic way on this land. And it doesn’t hinder the ability for people to grow food for their families and friends and neighbours. But yet, when we start to look at putting medium to high density on this land, it’s going to forever change that landscape. And this is rare, productive, arable land that was marked for this purpose.”

She said it was an oversight on the District’s part to not better assess the current and future potential of growing food on the land.

“They’re going to move forward on future scenarios without having done that step. And that is really disappointing to me,” Dunnigan said.

For the next step, District staff will start working on potential future scenarios for the neighbourhood, which will later be presented to the public and council.