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Squamish 210-unit residential proposal passes last major hurdle

Those at a public hearing for Diamond Head Development's proposal expressed concerns about parking and noise.
Finch Drive
Subject properties are in the yellow border.

After a roughly hour-long public hearing, Diamond Head Development has cleared the last major hurdle for its proposed residential project at the eastern end of Finch Drive.

On May 10, council voted unanimously in favour of giving three readings to a rezoning bylaw that would allow Diamond Head to construct 20 duplex units, 18 townhouses and 172 apartment units between four apartment buildings in the Loggers East neighbourhood. The highest of the buildings will be six storeys.

The development would be on hilly, sloped terrain around Finch and Raven Drive that spans 8.5 hectares. This area is currently zoned RS-1 for single-family homes.

However, with council granting three readings to the proposal, the area is poised to become a comprehensive development zone, or CD-101.

The project will also include 32 affordable rental units and four market rental units. The developer will also donate two units: a two-bedroom and a three-bedroom, to the Squamish Community Housing Society. There will also be childcare space for at least 25 kids.

Bryan Daly, the District's development and subdivision co-ordinator, said there were several community amenity contributions, including a multi-use path from Finch Drive to Loggers Lane; construction of a Squamish Legacy Sports Park multi-use path; and a Finch Drive to Raven Drive multi-use path.

There would also be the construction of ski jumps and a shelter in the Squamish Legacy Sports Park, as well as the construction of children's facilities in a public park.

Public hearing

Before council's vote, a public hearing was held that evening. Participants had the option to speak at Municipal Hall or phone in remotely.

Jason Wood, president of Diamond Head Developments, said that the company's project was a chance to design an environmentally friendly community.

"It's really going to be a community of the future," said Wood. "We're going to use advanced building techniques such as Step Code 5, net-zero ready. We're going to use solar power, and the homes are going to be quite unique and new for Squamish."

Rick Smith, president of the Sea to Sky Nordics, expressed support for the proposal. He said the club has a mandate to look after and steward the legacy park, which sits at the end of Raven Drive.

"This development would enable us to have the funding to make this beautiful park fully accessible," he said. "That means wheelchairs; that means baby buggies; that means accessible to everybody in the community."

Hereditary Chief Pekultn Siyam (Dale Harry) also spoke in favour of the project.

"I've known Jason, and I've known Diamond Head Development," he said. "And I've known that they employed First Nation members."

Concerns expressed

However, other people who spoke at the public hearing had concerns about noise, parking and density.

Sean Bickerton, who lives in the neighbouring Hummingbird Lane cluster housing property, said that there had been an unacceptable amount of noise coming from the development due to the ongoing blasting of rock.

The project is on hilly, sloped terrain and crews have been working to create a road to make the upper areas of the site accessible.

"We've got a little bit of an issue…called trust with this development so far," said Bickerton.

"We got a notice delivered to the door which said that blasting would occur for about two months…it's been about a year and a half and counting that we've endured blasting."

He also said the sounds of heavy machinery could be heard from 7 a.m. onward, about six days a week.

Anthony Lam, who lives on Finch Drive, echoed the noise complaints.

"Definitely haven't had the positive reflection from the developer at the moment," said Lam. "Extreme noise, inconsiderate noise and inconsiderate parking around the exit to our property."

He said he didn't consider the development environmentally friendly, as it has involved extensive blasting, which has destroyed the natural state of the hillside.

Parking was a major concern, he said.

"The developers and their contractors have made a wonderful demonstration over the last year of what happens when people don't park on the site because we've had our school bus blocked leaving our property," said Lam.

"Once they put all these people up onto that hill, they can't park, and there's going to be major issues on Finch Drive [and] Raven [Drive] around this area with the overflow parking."

Reduced parking

The District is allowing for significant reductions in its parking requirements for this development.

It would reduce the requirement by 0.25 spaces per apartment unit type and reduce visitor spaces to 0.1 spaces per unit for 72 of the 172 units. The guidelines call for between one and two stalls per unit, depending on the size of the unit.

This would result in a reduction of 60 stalls from the standard zoning bylaw requirement. The result would be 990 square metres of green space instead of paved parking stalls.

Pierre Friele of Raven Drive said he was concerned parking would spill over into his street, as Finch would be unlikely to accommodate the load.

He also reiterated the problems with noise.

"My main issue is the degree of noise that we're subjected to is quite literally ridiculous," said Friele.

"Sometimes it's just a low constant rumbling; other times it's rock hammers. I'm sure they have rock-crushing units on the hill."

He said the noise lasts from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days.

Among those who spoke, there was also a perception that the proposal was pre-approved, because Diamond Head had begun work on the area before the rezoning application had passed.

However Coun. Jenna Stoner argued against that notion.

"I just want to make clear that the investments that have been made by the road or by the proponent for the road building was done with risk by the developer choosing to take that on with the initial subdivision application," said Stoner. "There was no predetermination in this process."

Another Raven Drive resident, Line Gillespie, was not at the hearing but told The Squamish Chief that she was very concerned about parking.

She also had concerns about wildlife corridors in the area, and noted that development encroaches on many frequented by animals.

"Why don't we keep the density downtown? Like why does it have to be in these beautiful, diverse areas that actually have wildlife?" Gillespie said.

"We have bears here all the time. And we're OK with it. The bears are OK with it. But as soon as you put a tonne of people in the area, those bears won't be allowed to be here anymore."

She also said she was concerned that deer overwinter in the area where the project is being built.

Gillespie also noted that as a commuter town and a place where recreation requires lots of heavy gear, it's very unrealistic to expect people who don't own cars to move into the development.

She said a car-free community makes more sense in an area like Vancouver that has functioning public transit.

Council rationale

However, at the hearing, those on council said building more parking was an outdated way of designing communities.

"I did hear some concerns around the parking reductions and that reducing parking is not a realistic way to move forward," said Stoner. "But I do believe that we need to be building for the future and not looking into the past. Parking challenges to me are not addressed by building more parking. They're addressed by building more complete communities, increasing transit, providing alternative forms of transportation like car shares and bike shares."

Coun. Chris Pettingill said that building more parking would perpetuate the problem.

"All the evidence seems to point to the more you add on site get more cars and more of a general parking problem, and it's just a vicious cycle," Pettingill said.

Potential buyers will have to consider the lack of parking before making the purchase, said Coun. Eric Andersen, who also approved the project.

"I don't have too many concerns regarding the parking, and I'm crossing my fingers and hoping with Coun. Pettingill that the owners will make a sober consideration of the parking constraints that they will face in this development," Andersen said.

Coun. John French said that the development ticked a lot of boxes for him.

"It puts density in a place where I think it fits well," said French. "It provides our community with much-needed properties for our new housing society, 32 units of vital purpose-built rental apartments, 25 childcare spaces at least, homes built up to Step 5 energy code and more."

The project earned praise from Coun. Doug Race, who commended the proponent for following up on his previous idea of requiring future developments to donate properties to the District's housing society.

Council, however, noted that the noise was an issue that needed to be dealt with, and staff promised to follow up with the developer.


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