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Oceanfront partners shortlisted

Sylvie Paillard spaillard@squamishchief.

Sylvie Paillard

The Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation (SODC) took another next step toward the development of the former Nexen lands Wednesday (April 5) when it held an open house at the Adventure Centre to jumpstart a public consultation process. And the corporation had some difficult questions to answer.

There was a hiatus in communication while the SODC sought development partners, said CEO Mike Chin. But now that development proponents have expressed interested in transforming Squamish's waterfront, the SODC wants to know what the community thinks.

"The community has a huge role to play if we're to be successfully in attracting developers," said SODC communications director Anne Languedoc.

There were 15 responses to the SODC's request for expressions of interest in partnering for the development of the former Nexen lands, and the corporation whittled that list down to four potentially viable partners: Concord Pacific Group Inc., best known as the developer of False Creek in Vancouver; Holborn Group, a partner developer in Squamish's University Heights project; Intrawest Corporation, founded in 1976 as a residential and urban real-estate firm in Vancouver; and Qualex Landmark Group of Companies, developers of signature buildings in Vancouver's Yaletown as well as Whistler town homes and urban high-rises.

"All these developers have enormous vision," said Chin. "And they buy into the notion that this is a vibrant community."

The SODC is requesting from the firms an agreement in general terms that would include seven key elements and commitments. The first is that the development partner assumes all debt incurred to date by the SODC and the District of Squamish towards this project. The second is that the partner secure financing for the project so that no money is required by the district.

"An amazing opportunity," said Chin. "A development at no risk to the people of Squamish. No cash output."In addition, the district agrees to hand over land in exchange for the expertise on construction and marketing of the final product. The partner agrees to split 50/50 the resulting profits from the sale of residential units, while the community retains ownership of the shoreline and public access to the water. The partner also agrees to build public green space and a perimeter walkway along the waterfront.

The SODC is now asking for recommendations and feedback on the partnership possibilities from the community, but will not go as far as holding a referendum on the intented use of the land, as some members of the community have requested.

"There has been much public consultation to date. A referendum would be taking a step back from what the public has already said," stated a SODC news release.

But board members are quick to state that they do want to hear from the public.

"Ask all the questions that need to be asked," said SODC board chairman Larry Murray. "Reinforce for us the answers and questions."

The SODC has already sent out responses to a list of concerns voiced in the community in an effort to answer difficult questions being asked. Addressing concerns regarding the mercury left in the ground following the land's long history as an industrial site, the SODC stated that most of the 59 acres are remediated to either residential or commercial standards. But some sites may require the further remediation to allow development. "The risk and safety of the community is paramount," states the SODC response. "There is currently minimal risk posed to human health and the environment under the current land conditions."

Some residents have suggested selling off the lands or returning them to industrial use soley as a means of generating profit. The SODC stated that it is upholding the requests expressed by the community over numerous public consultation meetings by keeping a triple bottom line: social, environmental and economic concerns.

"Rather than selling the land outright, the community will use the project on an on-going basis," said Murray. Murray said excitement generated over this project and being part of the rediscovery of the Oceanfront has been phenomenal. And that energy is reflected among the SODC board members from various parts of the community whom Murray calls forthright and "brutally honest".

"It's like harnessing wild horses all heading toward a beautiful future for Squamish."

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