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Package of 12 Squamish bylaw updates head to public hearing

Among them are a Westway apartments rezoning to encourage rentals and a loosening of rules to encourage more affordable housing developments in Squamish.

Note: The Oct. 3 public hearing was cancelled by the District of Squamish on Sept. 29 in order to consider new information with no new date announced yet. 

A series of bylaw updates that could impact the future of housing in Squamish are heading to public hearings in the fall.

At a regular business meeting on July 18, District of Squamish council approved the first and second readings of 12 bylaw amendments, with 11 passing unanimously and one passing despite some opposition. 

The public hearings for 11 have been scheulde to occur on Sept. 12, and one on Oct. 3 at 6 p.m., with electronic participation available and limited participation available in council chambers.

One of the notable amendments, if passed, could affect residents in the Westway apartments in Valleycliffe by allowing a higher density to be built, if 10% of the density goes toward affordable rentals and another 10% goes toward market rentals.

“This is intending to try and incentivize or encourage affordable and market rental housing in a redevelopment scenario,” said District planner Bryan Daly.

He added, “The building's age indicates that redevelopment of the parcel is likely in the medium term.”

However, no such redevelopment is proposed by the owners at this time.

“Really want to hear from the neighbourhood and what folks in Valleycliffe are feeling about this move,” said Coun. John French.

Another proposed amendment, which will have the public hearing on Oct. 3, relaxes the rules to build 100% affordable housing developments.

Daly said the amendment would allow an affordable housing development to be constructed in any zone with residential as its principal use, allow a height of up to 23 metres, exempt the building from lot coverage and gross floor area measurements, and require one parking stall per unit.

“Together, these amendments are intended to facilitate the development of affordable rental housing,” he said.

Numerous council members had questions about loosening the rules in the amendment.

“There's a number of issues with how we got here,” said Jonas Velaniskis, the senior director of community development. 

“One is the immense need for affordable housing; we need to be delivering approximately 360 affordable housing units a year to catch up with demand in the next eight years,” he continued, adding on average per year, they create a total of 500 units of any type, not just affordable.

Velaniskis said it’s about opening opportunities for the housing society, non-profits and government agencies to build housing without competing with other development or needing to rezone, which can be a significant cost.

“It's sort of all hands on deck to assist affordable housing providers to find properties in suitable locations,” he said.

Coun. Jenna Stoner commented that it would be best to come up with specifics for the public hearing about the amendment in October for clarity.

“I think having just some general articulation of what those exemptions look like in practice will help to articulate this for both council as well as community members,” she said.

Lastly, the amendment that had some opposition centred on an empty parcel of land on 39773 and 39775 Government Rd. 

Like the Westway apartments amendment, the staff recommendation had added density so long as 10% of it was affordable rental housing and another 10% was market rental housing. 

Stoner proposed a bump to 15% affordable rental housing, which was ultimately approved in a 4-3 vote. Couns. Andrew Hamilton, Chris Pettingill, Lauren Greenlaw and Stoner were in favour, whereas Couns. Eric Andersen, French and Mayor Armand Hurford were opposed.

“The combination of 10% affordable and 10% market — which are two pieces that weren't included previously — hits the bar for me,” said Hurford.

“This is more in line with the direction that this council and previous council have gone with respect to trying to secure more percentage of affordable housing units in redevelopment scenarios,” said Stoner.

Read about the other amendment bylaws in the report to council available on council’s July 18 agenda, and view the meeting on the District’s YouTube page.

Note: Since the original publication of this story, several of the public hearings have moved to Sept. 12. As such, the story has been updated to reflect that.

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