Save for Electoral Area D’s director, there were no members of the Squamish-Lillooet’s Regional District board present for a public hearing on a nearly 1,000-unit development.
On Aug. 11, it was a fact not lost on the dozens who were crammed into the Britannia Mine Museum’s multi-purpose room at 150 Copper Drive.
Tony Rainbow, who was chairing the meeting, was the only elected SLRD official who was at the meeting, though there were promises that other members of the regional district board would be perusing the official meeting minutes after the meeting took place.
The public hearing was for a large development in Furry Creek, including residential, hotel and commercial space. Multiple developers have had a try at implementing a nearly 1,000-unit development since the 1990s.
To date, a golf course and about 150 residential units were built, but the full build-out has never happened, as time and again, efforts have sputtered and the land has changed hands.
Fine Peace is the latest developer to make an attempt at bringing the project into full fruition. It acquired part of the land in 2017 and expanded its foothold in 2018. If its rezoning application succeeds, it will turn the area into a CD-3 comprehensive development zone.
This zoning will create 750 residential market units, 120 non-market affordable residential units and 120 resort-hotel units.
There would also be an allowance for 2,323 square metres of commercial space, a community centre, administration office, childcare facility, transportation hub and 19.1 hectares of parks, trails and open space.
A new fire hall and public works yard, among other things, are also part of the deal.
In two select areas at the north-most end of the land, buildings up to 15 storeys will be permitted. However, construction of these towers will not be allowed until adequate firefighting services are in place.
For and against
When the floor was opened up to the public, there were two main camps of people.
One camp was clearly in favour of the proposal.
The other was composed of those who said they were not anti-development, but complained about one or more aspects of the proposal.
Perhaps the biggest block of opposition came from Thea Hoogstraten, a lawyer with Allen McMillan. She said she was representing five residents of Furry Creek.
First, she questioned why there was no official recording being made of the hearing and why there was no ability for people to join via online web streaming. She noted that the current public health situation prevents some people from attending crowded in-person meetings.
“We are here to strongly oppose these amendments for the proposed development,” said Hoogstraten.
She listed safety, traffic and environmental concerns as issues for her clients.
“The essence of our submission here is that the existing residents can’t have their safe highway access, their environmental management standards and their community plan compromised, based on proposed amendments and a development that has not been sufficiently studied,” she said. “And so we would reject the proposed amendment. They’re not anti-development. We want this community to be healthy and to grow, but not at the expense of safety.”
Jonathan Levine, a resident of Furry Creek, called the Sea to Sky Highway one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world.
“2.7 kilometres out of…a 42-kilometre shoreline [is] being converted into an amphitheatre of glass, reflecting the sun from…high and low places across our UNESCO biosphere,” said Levine. “This whole biome change is actually a national crisis, in my opinion.”
He also said the lack of nearby hospital space amidst a growing population was a cause for concern, noting that Squamish General Hospital only has 25 beds.
Stephen Campbell, a Furry Creek resident who lives on Ocean Crest Drive, said the location of the commercial space was a problem.
“The issue is the location of that 25,000 square-foot commercial community centre off the northbound entrance to Furry Creek,” said Campbell. “That’s the issue. We asked, and we’ve been asking for three years for consideration of some other location.”
He questioned why developers chose to locate the commercial space next to Ocean Crest Drive.
“Where this is located right now — this is a real bad thing,” said Campbell.
“And I think I’m speaking on behalf of my strata and many others here at Furry Creek who think that this cannot go forward with that location. Find another location, and then we can all be happy.”
Michael Geller, who was representing Fine Peace, said the location was changed to make the commercial zone feasible.
“Why did we move the village centre to where it is?” said Geller. “Because it was not commercially viable. It would never have been financed where it was… Where’s the best location where you can have some commercial viability, where you’re centrally located, where you can actually bring in not just the retail, but you can have the community centre and then, eventually, childcare. You can be close to the transportation. There was one location.”
Geller also added that before each individual building in the development is built, there will be a public process where residents get a voice.
“This decision on this zoning is just the first step,” he said. “Somebody said to me, ‘I didn’t realize we’re going to get a chance to look at each of these buildings.’ Yes — every application for every new building will go through a process.”
There were also several commenters who were in favour of the proposal just the way it is.
Valerie Casselton identified herself as the strata president of Oliver’s Landing, a townhouse complex right by the beach in Furry Creek.
She said she represented about 110 people.
Casselton said her strata voted unanimously in favour of expressing approval of the Fine Peace project.
She said the development represents the completion of their strata’s construction as promised when the original owners bought their properties 20 years ago.
“We will be completely surrounded on all three sides by development, and yet we fully support it,” said Casselton.
She said that while some people expressed concern about building heights, her strata still supported the project.
“We’re going to have four-storey-or-more-buildings 50 feet from some of our townhouses. We’re going to have multiple high rises, and we’re going to be living in the shadows. This is a development that offers the benefits that most communities can only dream of — modern green construction following best principles of sustainability, gorgeous Oceanside living [and] a community park.”
Another resident, Daryl Alexander, addressed some of those who voiced complaints about the proposal, saying people are living in the area because of development.
“Why are you here? I’m curious. You liked what we saw. So give other people that opportunity,” said Alexander.
“You’re saying you’re…pro-development? But what do you say? Limit the people who are coming here? Tell them what they can or cannot do in the same breath?”
The feedback from the public hearing will be summarized in the official minutes of the meeting. The SLRD board will then review those notes and make a decision on third reading at a future date.