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New neighbourhood proposed north of Squamish

One of Squamish's largest landowners is formally moving ahead with plans to create a new neighbourhood of nearly 3,000 people, setting in motion a conflict with the developers of the Sea to Sky University (SSU) project that will have to be resolved b

One of Squamish's largest landowners is formally moving ahead with plans to create a new neighbourhood of nearly 3,000 people, setting in motion a conflict with the developers of the Sea to Sky University (SSU) project that will have to be resolved by the District of Squamish.

Washington State-based development and forestry company Merrill & Ring (M&R) filed an application on Sept. 14 asking the District to amend the official community plan (OCP) so the company's land to the north of the Garibaldi Highlands can be developed into a residential area.

M&R is proposing to build the neighbourhood in phases with construction starting no earlier than late 2006.

Corson said the first phase will see construction of 25 to 50 homes and subsequent phases are expected to bring no more than about 100 homes each year over the first four to five years.

At build-out, M&R envisions 900 single family homes, 245 multiple family units and a neighbourhood population of about 2,750.

"We believe this will create dditional housing affordable to a wider range of Squamish residents and those looking to move to the community," said Don Corson of M&R.

In making its application, M&R is highlighting research it says proves that Squamish's housing market can absorb both its new properties and those about to be offered by the developers of SSU to finance construction of its campus.

SSU proponents have publicly opposed M&R's plans, saying its business plan is based on the current OCP, which indicates that no large tracts of land like M&R's will be developed in the near future. The university's leaders have said if too much housing is introduced to the market in the near future, it may not be able to open the school to students in September 2006 as planned.

M&R hired Royal LePage Advisors (RPA) to look at real estate development patterns in Squamish. Richard Wozny of RPA concluded that housing prices will continue to rise until the supply of new housing increases.

"The analysis clearly indicates there is sufficient demand to ensure that under no circumstances could there be a negative competitive impact between these various proposed developments," Wozny said.

"The research we've done demonstrates Squamish is continuing to grow as the Sea to Sky corridor develops," Corson said. "Events like the recent one-day sell out of land in Britannia Beach shows how excited people - especially young people with families - are to be settling in Squamish."

Corson said his company concluded from the studies it did recently that even with the housing being developed by SSU, there isn't enough land available to satisfy the demand.

The development, dubbed Squamish Highlands, is to be done in what M&R describes as sustainable and guided by SmartGrowth principles. The company did a significant amount of research into what community benefits can be generated by developing the large parcel of land.

The company determined that the community benefits to be delivered through the project include the addition of new recreational facilities, maintenance and enhancement of access to trails, new revenue to the district, construction-related jobs, increased housing choice and social benefits.

As well, the application submitted to the district of Squamish suggests the new neighbourhood could include a school site, a new fire hall and some small neighbourhood shops.

The developer also envisions a tourism/commercial component on about 40.5 hectares (100 acres).

Now that the M&R application is in the hands of District of Squamish staff, there will be an internal district review of the plan.

"We want to hold public information meetings as soon as the District of Squamish is comfortable with us to do that," said M&R planning consultant Gordon Harris.

SSU project leader Peter Ufford said Wednesday that M&R's application is "no great surprise" to the university planners, but reiterated SSU's opposition to the proposed development.

Ufford said the District should complete its ongoing review of the OCP before changing growth strategies.

While the current OCP said additional land for housing could be added provided that a project shows a significant community benefit, Ufford says that M&R's proposal doesn't meet the criteria. "It's typical of the benefits that would be presented by any developer," Ufford said. "There's nothing unique. It's not like building a university or your waterfront."

Ufford rejected M&R's claim that its development would not negatively impact SSU, saying that until recently, Squamish had one of the slowest rates of real estate absorption in the Lower Mainland.

"If they flood the market prematurely with additional development they'll be right back where they started, where it won't be worthwhile for any developer to pursue Squamish," he said.

Despite SSU's opposition, Ufford said he was comfortable with M&R's request for an OCP change.

"As recently as August were given assurance that while the District had to deal with applications, our situation will be taken into account and so will that of the community," said Ufford.