The district's plans for the future of Squamish were put before residents for comment last week, and comment they did.
Squamish's Official Community Plan (OCP) received two sessions of public massaging Wednesday and Thursday (Oct. 14 and 15) as district staff and council worked to fill gaps and work out conflicts before the public consultation phase draws to a close.
About 70 people attended the sessions with 20 groups or individuals making pitches for their special interests to be reflected in the document, which is designed to guide future and existing planning and land-use.
From rock climbing stewardship to agricultural land expansion, the number and quality of suggestions should ensure the final OCP encapsulates the overall vision for Squamish, said Mayor Greg Gardner, who moderated both sessions at the Sea to Sky Hotel.
"I was impressed by the quality of the presentations. They were very specific in their comments, there was a large amount of constructive criticism, there were compliments coming forward, and I thought it was a very productive couple of sessions," said Gardner.
Central to the OCP is growth management, as Squamish's population is projected to double over the next two decades.
S-block causes viewscape concern
District planning director Cameron Chalmers said projects like the 13-storey, 691-unit Sustainability Block (S-Block) is an existing example of working toward the goal of growing downtown before expanding Squamish's footprint.
"What we're doing through the [growth management plan] and the Oceanfront plan and others is very consciously trying to intervene to promote economic development and job growth. So we would expect that jobs and housing would grow somewhat concurrently," he said.
The challenges involved with visualizing and implementing such plans were pointed out this week by an illustration created by Squamish Arts Council (SAC) chair Krisztina Egyed depicting the impact the 13-storey S-Block towers would have on the downtown viewscape.
Such developments do not preserve the cultural landscape of Squamish, according to one of the concerns raised by SAC at the public meeting.
"We find the rationales offered for introducing such towers unconvincing, and are alarmed at the lacking attention to impacts on viewscapes - our cultural viewscapes," states SAC's official OCP submission.
Green interests presented
Residents like Squamish Climate Action Network's (CAN) Angela Mawdsley pointed out the importance of boosting Squamish off its path towards mainly being a bedroom community of Vancouver commuters.
The job to housing ratio imbalance needs to be solved, and the solution could incorporate diverse employment opportunities such as renewable energy industry, she said.
She also pointed to local agricultural expansion as an important element in becoming a self-sustainable community, and suggested that council utilizes a provincial grant created to help communities form an agricultural area plan.
"If you do want to have more of a holistic community, which is what it seems Squamish is striving for, you have to address all concerns. And food is one of them," she said.
North Yards dispute revisited
The district did receive compliments as well, most notably from North Yards resident Jim Whittaker for re-designating the neighbourhood to residential zoning and removing it from the business park sub-area plan. Residents fought for the change after the neighbourhood was rezoned industrial business in 2004.
The following evening, however, an Edmonton resident with plans to retire to his property between Government Road and Pioneer Way attended the public meeting to appeal the rezoning decision.
Peter Syvenky said he purchased the four lots with the intention of developing a two-storey building with 12 4,000-sq-ft units to establish local businesses. He estimates his plan would facilitate 50-70 jobs.
"What I'm trying to do is keeping with the mandate of what the city wants, which is to bring in employment to the area," said Syvenky, adding that he sees no reason for him to be forced into residential zoning with industry on all three sides of his property.
While Syvenky expressed concerns over what Squamish needs to build in order to grow, Squamish Access Society's Brian Moorhead and Kevin McLane highlighted the natural recreational landscapes Squamish must preserve, namely the Stawamus Chief, Smoke Bluffs and Murrin Park.
Local rock climbing areas are estimated to bring in $25 million to town each year. And such a significant asset must be integrated into the community's vision for the future, as it is a significant component of what makes Squamish an attractive place to live, he said.
"What sets Squamish apart from everywhere else on the planet is the fact that there is a really thriving town within walking distance of the climbing. That is unique and, from a climbers point of view, eye-popping," said McLane.
Although the OCP currently makes no mention of the benefits of climbing, district staff and council were quick to admit the oversight and said they are committed to making the relevant changes.
There will be a final public hearing scheduled in the coming months and the OCP is expected to be put to third reading and adoption early in the new year. Residents have until Nov. 15 to submit suggestions and complete a district survey. A hard copy of the survey can be picked up at Municipal Hall and an electronic version can be found online at squamish.ca.