A development permit for the form and character of a few buildings at Woodfibre LNG (WLNG) was approved Tuesday night at Squamish, B.C., council.
On Nov. 7, at a regular business meeting, District of Squamish council members approved a form and character development permit (DP) by a 5-1 vote for approximately five buildings as part of the liquefied natural gas export facility on Howe Sound. Coun. Lauren Greenlaw was absent from this portion of the meeting.
Although the application included renderings that showed other parts of the facility, the five buildings in question were the control operations building, warehouse and maintenance building, administration building, storage building and emergency response building. These were mostly situated on the south end of the site.
Before the vote, the senior director of community development, Jonas Velaniskis, explained to council the application before them meets the official community plan guidelines and, as such, the decision to approve is non-discretionary, meaning council is largely confirming that municipal staff have ensured the application meets the guidelines.
Nonetheless, there was a long discussion about the application and, ultimately, Coun. Chris Pettingill opposed the permit application.
District planner, Vrish Prahalad, told council staff have been working with WLNG since about January 2023 to get the information they required.
“And now we feel like we’ve received enough information to address the DP guidelines and seek council approval,” he said.
Coun. John French asked what consequences were at stake if council did not approve the application. Velaniskis did not necessarily offer concrete examples but said that a decision like that would be “interesting” and the proponent could reapply or seek “legal avenues.”
Pettingill said his main concern was the application seemed to only detail a preliminary list of buildings, which made it difficult to evaluate requirements, colour and lighting.
“I don’t want to sort of give approval for something vague and nebulous,” he said.
Despite describing himself as “reluctantly” voting in favour of the application, Mayor Armand Hurford said he was OK confirming the staff assessment that the application meets the guidelines.
“In this case … we do not have the discretion to deny when something does fit the guidelines of the DP,” he said.
Coun. Andrew Hamilton said it was imperative that council respect the policies, guidelines and OCP.
“It's important that we respect the expertise of our staff who have worked on this for almost a year even if we disagree with the principle of a project, the purpose of a project, or all of the outcomes that may come from a project,” he said. “When they meet our guidelines, when they meet our policies, we have a responsibility to follow those policies.”
Coun. Eric Andersen said unlike other form and character development permits, they ought to focus on safety and adaptability.
“Our focus should instead be on a well-performing, safe facility complex, and a safe workplace,” he said.
French kept his comments very brief, but noted they don’t yet have a tax agreement with WLNG and called the agreement “long overdue.”
With the approval of the development permit for form and character, Velaniskis said if there are major changes to the five buildings, then WLNG would have to apply for a development permit amendment.
If the amendment fits the guidelines, then it is not necessarily up for debate from the council, but it would have to go before the staff and council again.
During the unscheduled public attendance session near the start of the council meeting and well before the development permit application presentation, a My Sea to Sky representative asked council to consider delaying the development permit choice to another council meeting to allow more time for review and oversight.
Council ultimately denied the request from the volunteer, largely citing that it is not typical practice to receive public input on a development permit if there are no variances.
About 10 members of the public raised signs during the entirety of the application discussion that said, “Stop Woodfibre LNG.” At least one WLNG representative sat in the crowd during council’s discussion of the application.
Interested public can view the permit application in full on the District’s website at squamish.ca.
Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the final vote count. The Squamish Chief apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.