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The year in review with Mayor Armand Hurford

District of Squamish's new mayor talks election interference, development, reconciliation with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and wildlife conflict, FortisBC and Woodfibre LNG.
Mayor Armand Hurford at Municipal Hall on Dec. 9.

A new mayor is now at the helm of District council and already there is so much to address — rapid growth, election interference and how the community will be dealing with future development.

Armand Hurford was voted in as the town’s top elected official this past October.

Hurford and the new council will be taking on items that were brought up as election issues during the campaign season.

Looking back at it all, The Squamish Chief sat down with the mayor at his office in Municipal Hall on Dec. 9 to discuss the issues facing the town as he steps into his new role.

The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The election revealed a lot of vulnerabilities in our system regarding spending and advertising. And I remember you saying a little while ago that you were going to talk to Elections BC a bit more about this once the election is done. What's come of that?

Their process, at this point in time, really leans quite heavily on the financial reporting, which is due in early January. So they're working hard towards that. So the avenue I think we'll be working with is the opportunity to potentially effect change that will happen after that. We do have a four year window to accomplish something. So I think there'll be some opportunities through advocacy to advance some changes there. And as much as I feel it was particularly acute here in Squamish, we weren't the only community in British Columbia to face the challenges. So coming forward with some recommendations through the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) to the province, I think, is the most appropriate path for substantive change.

Like a big motion from UBCM with all the communities saying, ‘Give us some sort of tool to deal with this.’

Yeah. I think it’ll take some work and some debriefing across the province to understand what exact changes would be beneficial, and it is far more effective when we’re speaking to the province to come with a specific ask, rather than the generic, ‘Hey we can do better than this.’ We're definitely at the, ‘Hey, we can do better than this.’ But we need to get down to that finer detail, something that would make sure that that list of actions could be something the entire province would benefit from.

We’re still not quite at the exact specifics. But do we have an idea of the direction that we're going to be going in that sense? Would it be like, I don't know, giving Elections BC more staff or something?

Some things that come to mind and in our context. During election period, to my understanding, Elections BC’s investigative enforcement doesn't doesn't ramp up, but the customer service level does. So, potentially, some tools for moving quicker during the election period, because we only have six or eight weeks or something like that. And often investigations take months and months, and it's such a compressed period of time that the ability to move swiftly, I think, is important. And, to their credit, they did move fairly quickly on a couple things that were happening and didn't on others. That capacity has to be expanded so they can move more swiftly across the board.

In your later communications with Elections BC, did they ever or wield any power or ability to compel Squamish Voices to really reveal their identity?

No. Not thus far.

Is the need to act promptly the reason why you put in that court action against GoDaddy, and how's that going?

That’s exactly the point of that action or the intent of that action. I had some hope. The election time was a crazy time always, but I wanted to push however I could to get something before election day. And that's where we started down that path, because it became evident that Elections BC wasn't going to get us there. And that process is still moving. There's a couple of things with that. One is that there's still urgency, but there's not that solid deadline of, ‘Hey, I'd really like to have this information in my hand before this date.’ Things are still moving. But we can try to be a little bit more patient about it. And that is also something that I'm taking on as a private citizen, not something that the municipality or any other organization is helping with. So that kind of needs to move as fast as we can make it move.

I guess the big hope with that action was that it would reveal the identity of these folks. Has that happened at all?

We’re getting closer. There's more layers to the onion. Believe it or not, after all this, I'm still an optimistic person. So I think I was perhaps a little overly optimistic that the first pass would get us to where we need to be. But we're peeling back layers of the onion.

In the meantime, should we be worried about these anonymous attack ads? If the government or the court system is moving as slowly as it does, what do we do when the next election cycle happens?

Whatever their goal was and whoever they are, they are still out there. So they may still in the future try to apply different tactics to achieve whatever their goals were. And I think it's really important that we put a name and, ideally, a motivation to it so that we can better recognize those actions when we see them. They’re still out there. And I think it's important to keep that in mind. But the election process, and, particularly, the vote-casting part of it, really gave me hope that our community is full of critical thinkers who don't respond to those types of tactics. But it doesn't make it OK that it happens. And we still have work there to push through on that.


One thing that some people have pointed out to me is that the latest composition of council is kind of the same as last time, which is mostly middle-aged-ish white folks. No visible minorities, no openly LGBTQ+ folks, and I think there are increasingly diverse communities in town, and they're wondering how can a council with pretty much the same demographics that we've had since last time represent these more and more diverse communities?

Well, there's a couple pieces to this. I think we started this discussion talking about the things that were happening leading up to and during the election period. I think that it's really important to create safe spaces. To create an environment — and this is all of our joint responsibility — where it's safe to participate in the democratic process. And that's what makes that so important. It's hard for anyone to take it on, and it gets exponentially harder to do as you move into [less-represented groups.] Look at how Coun. Stoner and Mayor Elliott were treated by Squamish Voices and others. And so when we see that stuff happening, we need to take a stand. And I'm really hoping that we can do some work in that space to make it more comfortable for a wider range of folks to put their name forward. And I think that our small pool of council candidates this time sort of speaks volumes to that. I think what, in 2018, [there were 22 council candidates] in the election.

Nevermind the composition of that, but there were more candidates. And then with more candidates, you're gonna get more diversity. So we need to create that safe space. I would also like to emphasize that regardless of the composition of council, it's council's responsibility to be curious about their community and to find ways to engage with folks that perhaps aren't clearly represented around the council table. And I've been proud of our last council and this council so far for finding those opportunities to have those conversations and to be open and I encourage anyone reading this to reach out to myself or any individual member of council or all of us as a whole if you have a concern. And we can ensure that your voice is heard in our various processes. But I do hope to see a more diverse cast of candidates. The first step is a cast of candidates. A more diverse council starts with more choices at the voting station, and then and goes on from there.

Regarding the day-to-day of council, will you be keeping some of former mayor Elliott's old practices? One of the things that stuck out to me is she allowed acting mayors to chair committees of the whole and gave the rest of council a little bit more opportunity to do more chairing — more than I'd seen before. Will that stay the same in your term? Or is that going to change?

I think I personally really benefited from that practice and that experience. Mayor Elliott was quite generous with sharing what limited power a mayor has in this weak mayor system. I've continued those practices. I plan on continuing that.

We just finished speaking about the diversity of council. There's a diversity of opinion around the table. Under Mayor Elliott, the acting mayor was also involved in the agenda planning process. I’m continuing with that. And that's an opportunity to make sure that if you have a project, if you want to be heard, it gives you an avenue to work directly with the agenda to make sure that something's that’s important to you can get onto the agenda.

We also have a mechanism in our meetings — the Notice of Motion, and notice of motion has been heavily used in the past for a councillor to essentially argue that something important to them gets inserted on the agenda. And it's a very sort of forceful tool. So I see a lot of value in ensuring that everyone's heard and giving a mechanism for that.

I think, as a councillor, you get appointed to these external entities’ boards. And without experience as a chair in the most formal setting in the community, you might be expected to go and know how to do that in another setting that you've been appointed to by the mayor. Doesn't make a lot of sense to exclude someone from that in my assessment. Although I haven't been burned by it yet or seen it burn any previous mayors. So, we can compare notes and see if this continues. But I have confidence in my council colleagues.


I think people's perception has been that we're overdeveloping. What’s your view on how fast we're developing?

We hear a lot about the need for affordable housing, and daycare and employment space for our existing businesses, and businesses hoping to do business here. And then we hear about the pace of development. Well, it's a challenge because we need affordable housing units, and development is our number one source of affordable housing units. And, similarly, with daycare spaces and employment space. So my focus has been, as a councillor and, now, as mayor, to ensure that when development does occur — because we have very little control over when it occurs — that we get what we need as a community.

I do feel the rate of change is quite high. And these things are cyclical. Forces outside of [Municipal Hall] play a greater role on when it actually happens. I remember sometime, not that long ago, where some developments sort of stopped halfway through, and we had exposed concrete foundations and nothing else happening for periods of time. And I'm curious to see where these changing market conditions take us, so when development occurs, we ensure that it happens in a way that will benefit the community at large.

That's where work on the DCC, or development cost charges, policy comes in and we're partway through this community amenity contribution review, and that's our main mechanism for extracting those community benefits and ensuring that development pays for development as a baseline and then layering those benefits on top. The DCC work has been completed this year and the CAC work’s ongoing, and I think there's an opportunity there to push a little harder.

A campaign cry we heard this past election was, ‘Let's just make developers pay for everything. They’re raking in huge profits.’ At least some people thought that there's a way to structure DCCs and CACs in ways that taxpayers would never have to pay for anything like a public works building or Brennan Park. How does that work out?

So the DCC part is actually very structured from the province. And we can only put certain things in there. And so that legislation is extremely limiting. We've recently updated ours. We put it on a shorter review cycle as a way to just make sure that it's doing what it should. That covers pipes in the ground. Things in the ground is a short version — it's a little more nuanced than that, but, really, things in the ground.

So the CAC policy is where the benefit to the community can be realized. And that part’s under review. I have high hopes for that policy. And I think that there's some room for a little bit more for the community and what we’re getting. And once we figure out the size of the pie, we can figure out what the appropriate pieces of that pie should be for these areas of community need or concern. So, initial work shows that we're sitting, kind of in the mid-high end of comparables for the policy. I think we can go a little bit more. If we go to think about it in extremes, on one end, you collect no CACs and the developers run out of town with bags of money like in some sort of cartoon. And then, on the other end, you have a CAC policy that's too onerous. And then no development occurs, or only very elite-level development occurs. But let’s stick to the very extreme — no development occurs. So then if we swing for the fences on affordable housing…and childcare and contributions for important projects, such as recreation facilities, or what have you, but no development’s occurring, then we're not actually achieving that goal. So in between those two extremes, we need to be quite mindful of where we sit. So that's gonna be a conversation we’ll have with the community over the next few months, and I believe those should, depending on how that work goes, come back to council in the spring. And I encourage people who are interested in policy or interested in the overall goal of ensuring that we're getting a fair shake from when development occurs, to engage in that process. We'd really like to hear from them.

Generally speaking, are we going too fast? Are we going at the right pace, in your mind, in terms of development happening?

It’s pretty fast. One of the things I've been reflecting on is the street I grew up on in Brackendale. My dad still lives in the family house. And I think there's only been one house built on that street in the last 20 years. So, pretty stationary. But the rate of change feels really high, even on that street, because there's different people in all those houses. So I think what we're feeling as we walk around the community is that extremely high rate of change that's even higher than the rate of development, because we're having people sort of cashing out. Say, in some cases, long-term folks moving on to other communities or downsizing. And so our rate of change, I think, is even higher than the rate of development, which kind of compounds the issue a little bit. Earlier, I mentioned that I do believe these things are cyclical. So when there's a time of extended opportunity to achieve some community goals, I think movement there to capitalize on that is not necessarily a bad thing, as much as it may or may not be the most comfortable thing while it's happening. And that's, again, to positively affect affordable housing, childcare, even park space being secured in having development pay for things like pieces of diking. So it's kind of a yes-and-no, I guess, in answer to your question. And maybe if we averaged it out over a period of time, some of those quieter years will make that graph less of a distinct spike that we’re feeling at this point in time.

So you catch the wave while it's there, make the best of it, and then it'll gradually dissipate?

When nothing's happening and you put in the best possible policies, then we're not actually getting any benefits. Because nothing's happening. I think it needs to be viewed as for what it is, which is both an opportunity and a challenge. And that's what makes this work so engaging, honestly.

When I was at the open house event for the budget, it had CACs paying for a lot of projects, like a splash park. I wonder, is this in response to some election candidates being like, ‘Let's get CACs paying for more stuff’? Is that this council’s answer of ‘Yeah. We can make that happen. Here you go.’

Well I mean, that would be a simplistic view. But I think the CAC policy had been doing a lot of things — achieving affordable housing and so on — but it was also taking in cash. And that was a sort of a pot of money that the District hadn't really dipped into as much. And just like your household finances, do you do little projects around the place, or do you save up to put on that big new addition? Don't forget — the budget process starts in [June]. So I don't know if I’d put too much weight on the [election] campaign time, especially since we're not meeting in August, even. So I would say that this pretty solidly predates that, but it was recognized that we should be seeing some of this benefit, and we were sort of building up more than leveraging those funds. So a little bit of a shift in the policy around how the CAC funds are used. And, yeah, and I think that I hope that the community will appreciate it when these pieces sort of come into play.

It does take a long time for those goals to get into action. And that part I find frustrating. And I understand why the community could feel that way too, because I'm right there with them.

Now that we have this built-up CAC fund that you mentioned, will this be a pattern where we'll be seeing CACs paying for more stuff in the future as well?

The short version is yes, but there's probably a longer answer there. There'll be a good discussion around when those are brought to bear and what is an appropriate place for them. Does that mean that every budget cycle is going to have the same level of contribution from CACs? No — because the input to those doesn't always line up. With some larger developments around the community, some of the contributions to the CACs will come in kind of bigger chunks rather than the sort of month-to-month or annually at a consistent rate. So I can see that with the input being kind of sporadic but inconsistent, then the output could be similarly so. But yes, I think that we should see tangible benefits, not just an accumulation of capacity to be deployed at some point in future.

I guess the golden question is what is the right amount for developers to pay into the CAC fund? Is there some sort of figure or idea that we're kind of starting to get a hold of?

The development community develops, so they go where it's reasonable to do that work. So I think Squamish being such a desirable place on the planet and getting a lot of attention from the development community, at this point, we can be on the higher end of comparables, if not set the standard. However, at other points in time, when development was at a complete standstill and there were goals that the community had, then things needed to be adjusted to make it a more desirable place. It's an adjustment depending on market conditions. And there might be times where — in the future, I’m not saying now, but in the  future — it may be appropriate to scale those back to ensure that we get the right amount of development and again, the kind of development that benefits the community. It does need to move a little bit with the market conditions. And, in the current context, that policy is under review. And we don't really know where that's going to take us. I'd like to see it be a step forward from where we are. But how big of a step and what that actually looks like — that's why that work is still underway.

Council already adjusted the development cost charges, or DCCs, this past year, sometime around spring. Maybe you could speak to how much of a say the District has over how much developers can pay into that?

The first time I discussed DCCs, I was quite hopeful of what we could do with that mechanism. And the legislation is very, very controlled, so we have very little room to move there. It's very prescribed what can be in there and what can't and I do think it's an area of advocacy to the province around what can be included there to give us a better position but with what's there is very, very prescribed and very practical and there's not a lot of room for maneuvering there at all, unfortunately. The DCCs, as appealing as it sounds on the surface, is something that we need to pay close attention to and do correctly, but it's not a mechanism with sort of unlimited potential. We have far more leeway with CACs.

What a lot of people were talking about is like, well, development cost charges are supposed to pay for infrastructure. And infrastructure can mean so many things to so many different people. Obviously, we have roads and sidewalks, but fire halls — you could say that's infrastructure, because you just need that right? You need a public works facility. Can it pay for big ticket items like those? Or are we just stuck with paying for pipes?

It’s pipes, bridges, it's the amount and it's very formulaic. The basic concept is, if the development triggers a need for an upgrade, it doesn't pay for the entire upgrade. It's calculated on what percentage of that upgrade they would be responsible for, because of the load that they added. That's where all these formulas come into it. And it becomes quite challenging to look at without running a sample project through to understand how it all fits. And that's development paying for development — that's not development paying for things that we need as a community or a piece of infrastructure that needs to be replaced or upgraded just over time. So it's that growth bit attached to each individual development.

So it's not as deep a well as we would like it to be. But that's why CACs exist — to fill that gap. And the DCC is a bylaw. The CAC is a policy. And the policy we have room to maneuver. And all the rest of the DCC is really tied to provincial regulations very, very closely. And I'm curious to see what the province does. There's a lot of noise coming out of the province around housing. There seem to be some winds of change blowing at the provincial level, and it can change all this little ecosystem of these pieces we've been talking about adjusting.

I think another thing that we did hear about a lot this past year was the densification of legacy neighbourhoods. Garibaldi Estates was labelled as one, and I guess it's a pretty subjective phrase, depending on who you're asking. So I'm just wondering what you would consider to be other areas that you would consider to be legacy neighbourhoods?

One concept is that the only constant is change. Earlier, I mentioned the street that I grew up on in Brackendale. And I'm pretty sure it’s a little bit of a newer street than the rest of Brackendale. So did the first part of Brackendale, are they considered the legacy neighbourhood? Like, it's really hard to draw that line. What moment in time do you take that snapshot and make that declaration? So, in that neighbourhood, we've seen more suites go in. There's more folks there. And, arguably, by having more humans living in there — even though the square footage hasn't changed and there hasn’t been a new build — there's a higher density of humans there. So I have a hard time classifying that. The Estates, the Highlands, Brackendale — all these areas have their own unique personality and their challenges and opportunities as well. So I really think that when considering changes to a neighbourhood, that a neighbourhood planning process should be undertaken, which is what we're doing in the Garibaldi Estates. Because there is development pressure across the community.

So, starting from that baseline, what development should be allowed in each area? And these neighbourhood planning processes I think are the way to get us there. I think both the potential for change or potential for negative change is scary for humans in general. Particularly when it's their home and their neighbourhood and they care about it so much, and, understandably so. But this process is meant to get us to a place that provides some clarity for the residents — for the residents that don't have development aspirations, for the residents that do have development aspirations, and of course, the development community as to what will be acceptable in these areas. So I think we need to let that process run its course and see where we land. We've seen downtown can be a legacy neighbourhood. And once we step off Third, Fourth Avenue, into the back there — which is currently my neighbourhood, you know — we have seen gentle density change with the laneway houses and the like. So yeah, I'm curious where that leads us. But that's why that process is there.

At what point does a neighbourhood planning process get triggered? Because what may be a legacy neighbourhood to one person may not be a legacy neighbourhood to another person.

I think it's a combination of things, which includes development pressure. It's adjacent to a legacy neighbourhood, but there's essentially a neighbourhood planning process underway right now for Crumpit North. It's a process that ensures that we can clearly articulate what we would like as a community. So there’s the reactive bit, which is, for example, if 10 properties are coming forward to do something, and, ‘Whoa, OK, let's get ahead of this and figure out this plan.’ And then the other part would be proactive, where we feel that there's some opportunity there to, again, achieve some community goals, I think. And both of those things sort of came together for Garibaldi Estates, and it was highlighted even as far back as the Official Community Plan, which was adopted in 2018. So that work would have commenced ‘16, ‘17. It's been a long time that this area has been under pressure from development, as well having been highlighted as an area where there might be some appropriate growth, whatever that may be.

With appropriate growth, I think the term that was used a lot was gentle density. And I think a lot of people have pretty subjective views of what gentle density could be.

I think that'll come out of the next phase of this. I'm happy to talk about that area [the Garibaldi Estates] as a concept, but I’m waiting for that process to move through and see where that takes us. But, you know, if a single-family home covers a certain percentage of a lot, does it matter if that's a duplex when it's time to be replaced? So is it larger lot coverage? Doesn't need to be, does it? I'm quite interested in the missing middle — duplexes, triplexes — that kind of that kind of stuff. Also small-lot single family is interesting. And when you look at an area — OK I just said I didn't want to talk about the Estates specifically because the process is underway, but I'll use an Estates example. You've got some bigger lots in the Veterans’ Lands Act, or VLA, area. And those have absorbed a lot of the discussion I've noticed recently. But when you move over, we've got what I've been calling international row for a while and it goes straight from Top Hat Pizza, and you run the gauntlet down to Wigan Pier, which is, unfortunately, gone. But, yeah, that section there. And then the older, affordable sort of apartment buildings across the street — what's appropriate for those when they reach the end of their lifecycle? I think that's a really important discussion in that area. That is part of what we're discussing in that conversation. So what's gentle could be different in each of those areas.

Should we have another site called the spectacle building where those garden courts are? Is that appropriate? Should it be bigger, smaller, lower, you know, and same thing, and now we might even be asked this question as a community sooner rather than later because, unfortunately, the Wigan Pier [Tantalus Mall] building is no more. So I'm sure someone's gonna be looking to replace that. So what's appropriate there? And, similarly, just over that back fence, there are some duplexes, triplexes, a couple fourplexes on that next road back. And they’re all older. So when something does come forward, what is appropriate there? As much as I'm sure there'll be a flurry of activity at the start, over time, where do we want to get to? And how can we give the community the best idea of what their neighbourhood could look like over the coming decade or more depending on how things go. So it's not a click-and-build Sims game there or something like that.

Where should gentle density be applied? And where are the areas where we should just let loose, go free?

Well, I think having some principles around achieving functional transit is important. So you've got your main routes. I also think that neighbourhood-commercial is really important. I grew up in a neighbourhood that had one or two corner stores, depending on the time, and a restaurant or two, and I found I really liked to be able to walk over and do that. But it does take a certain amount of density to achieve those things, because you need to be able to see the customers to have those services in your area. So it's more applying concepts like that than calling out a specific spot. And I do think, sorry, in your question, you did say running wild, I do think it's very important that we are mindful of how the community develops. And I'm going to talk about the growth management boundary, here. I think it’s a common value of people in the community that we like the forests and the mountains. And so being contained as much as we can within reason, I think, is quite important. I know that folks reading this or listening to this can't see the big map on the wall [points behind him] But that's a map of the municipality. And it's quite sprawling. That’s one of the things that jumps out to me.

I’ve heard some elected officials in the past say that development is the solution to the housing shortage — we get more inventory, housing prices go down because supply will meet or exceed demand. I think it sounds good on paper, but some people observe that when we build more housing, housing prices either stay the same or get higher, because we're just inviting more people to come in and live here. So is increasing inventory the answer? Or are we kind of missing something here at this point?

I don't think there's any one answer to this. And that's where these discussions sometimes get off-track, I feel. Because I think that it's such a desirable place to be, we could just keep building housing, and folks are gonna keep coming. However, if, through a lever that we don't have, we stop development completely, then what's here, existing inventory…the value goes up. I think that inventory is part of the equation. And also ‘affordable,’ just like gentle density, also needs to be defined when you're having a conversation, because it may mean different things for different people in portions of the housing continuum.

That's where policy, like CAC policy to ensure that we create below-market rentals, which falls solidly in the affordable category, is important. But, yes, if we just build housing units of whatever sort, that alone isn't going to necessarily positively affect the affordability of the place. I also think one of the things I've been quite mindful of is employment space as we’re developing housing units. So [a 2020 Government of Canada report says 35% of Squamish’s workforce commutes to the Lower Mainland each day for work.]

I would like to increase the number of people working here in town. And, as we're adding housing units, we need to be affordable or, otherwise, we need to be creating space for business to operate to continue to push the number of people working locally up. And focusing purely on housing inventory doesn't make it necessarily more affordable if we don't have that local employment to back that up. I think that previous councils have grappled with this extensively as well. And there's that sort of bedroom community aspect, and I understand that's necessary for some folks, and they take that on, but I don't want it to be something that has to happen if you want to live in Squamish. So I think that inventory discussion kind of feeds into that as well, because we need to be mindful of employment, space work as we contemplate that whole picture.

I hear generally that Squamish — at least for a lot of folks that have been here for a little while — that we're becoming a resort town. This is a place now only for the wealthy. What do you make of that? What would you tell the folks who are feeling that way?

I think it's important that we recognize those sentiments, and take that feedback on. And I really think that that question almost reinforces what I just said about employment spaces. About having affordable housing, which can mean all sorts of things. And, for some people, it means that missing-middle housing form I was talking about earlier. If you want to downsize from your big house on your big lot, because you needed it when you raised your family, but you can't — because your only option is to go from that big house to an apartment that you don't want to live in — then you leave the community. And you might not feel good about it, because you've given a big piece of your life to it. You may have done well with your real estate, but then you have to leave the community you love. So that's why this work is so important. And I think it can have a positive impact and, hopefully, make it a place that someone can be at from beginning to end of life. And not just a phase, which is what we seem to see in a lot of resort communities, to use your phrasing from earlier.


We’re trying to shift to active transportation. But a lot of people still have to commute down to the city to find work. And, if you're commuting to the city, you're going to need to buy a unit that has parking. And touching back on that local employment piece that you brought up — until we have sufficient, walkable or busable local employment, should we stop allowing developers to keep putting in these variances that reduce the amount of residential parking?

It’s obviously an issue that we do hear a lot about. And there's a lot of folks who have expressed their opinion on it. I think that there's a few things that can be done. And there have been some missteps in the past. And one of the things I said on election night was that, [chuckles] ‘Now everything's my fault.’ So we will wear to a certain extent some of the challenges from previous councils or approvals of development, and so on. One of the things that I've been thinking about a lot — and that we've been working on — is ensuring that the parking that is provided is usable. So if your average Squamish vehicle is a Tacoma with a North Shore rack in the back, can that fit in the parking spot that's provided? In a lot of cases, it can’t. So this is where a height variance might be appropriate, because our zoning bylaw doesn't allow for a high enough garage to actually achieve that. So we want to ensure the parking spots that are provided — this is before we even get into variances — are used. They need to be created in such a way. So this started to happen with the last council, and we'll continue to make sure that we're paying specific attention to that. We need to make sure that what we are mandating [builders] to provide is actually usable for its intended purpose. So that's one thing. Now the parking variances are interesting. And, understandably, can be contentious for the community. Something to think about with these is that the overall policy that we would be looking to vary is blanketed across the community or across parcels with the same zoning. But when you get down to each site, in each specific project, there can be cases where it is appropriate.

And without some ability to vary parking — and I'm mostly thinking about cash-in-lieu funds, which go to a pot for either active transportation or construction of future parking facilities, which are both worthwhile things we would like to achieve — but without that mechanism, some of these smaller developments that are a single-lot wouldn't be viable in any way. They would need to be made entirely of parking spaces to achieve that. So there needs to be a mechanism there. Otherwise, we're only going to see four, five, six-lot developments on a larger scale. And I don't think that we want exclusively one or the other, but having a mechanism available for an appropriate level of reduction is, I think, important.

But you're right. It is a challenge. And what gets built needs to function. So there's a couple pieces to do that. I think just providing no variances doesn't necessarily achieve our goals. I also think those transit points in your question were great. I think that over time, it's having a higher level of your day-to-day be achieved by services close to your home, wherever that is, and a higher percentage of your movements be able to be performed, walking, riding a bike or on transit. Now, if 100% of your activities right now are done in your car and we can move that to 95%, that's still getting there, we’re still moving in a direction.

I will take this opportunity to talk about transit for just a second if you'll indulge me, and a lot of conversation over the years — and prior to my time in working with this — has been about sort of getting people to mode-shift. How do we motivate people to mode-shift from single-occupancy vehicles to public transit? We've been talking about how, throughout our conversation today, how there's a lot of new folks in town, both in existing homes and in our newer builds. And speaking with some of these folks. I've heard things like, ‘This is the first place I've lived where I feel I need to have a car.’ And that gives me hope that we're moving in the right direction, but it also highlights that our community has expectations, and they're disappointed in some ways when they need to have a car to achieve their things. We've been talking about affordability throughout our conversation today. And how much you pay in rent is one thing, but if you need to have a car to achieve your basics in your day, that clearly affects the affordability of your time in Squamish. So it's all mixed up there together.

Relations with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation)

Another big thing that was brought to our attention was the voting registration for a lot of members of the Nation. Many residents of reserve lands in Squamish were not on the voter registry when they went to vote in October, even though many of them are longtime local voters. What is the District doing to address and repair that? Because we heard Elections BC go, ‘Well, the municipality asked for the wrong voter rolls.’ The District was like, ‘No, we asked for the right rolls.’ So whose issue is it? What do we do? What's the solution here?

Essentially, I think it was most likely premature for Elections BC to determine what the cause of the issue was. But there was an issue. And, elections, for very understandable reasons, are clearly protected from politicians dictating pieces of that, so as much as I've been briefed on what that process is, that's something that lives with our staff. But I do know that there's work ongoing there to better understand what happened. I think those comments were made before both parties understood what happened. And we would address that collaboratively not only with Elections BC and the municipality, but with the Nation as well.

But again, no one that came to a voting station to vote was turned away.

We always hear about the District saying they want to better their relationship with the Nation and work more with them. First off, I heard that there was a formal letter of apology about the voting issue sent to the Nation. Is that true?

Yes, there was a letter sent.

OK, and in the broader sense, what kind of tangible ways will the municipality work with the Nation to better that relationship?

Well, I think if we take it to the relationship, I think that any relationship between individuals or, say, organizations is going to have a challenge from time to time. And, in this case, I really hope that the decades of good work done by both the municipality and the Nation to find ways to work together has not been undone by this issue. And I understand the impact that it had and the seriousness of it. And, you know, with a half step backwards, it certainly doesn't mean that we can't have 10 steps forwards coming. So steps will be taken as best as we can figure out how to address this particular issue. But it also comes on the back of a lot of good work building that relationship to weather such things where there's a tough conversation that needs to be had, and someone makes a mistake of some sort. So the relationship is stronger than this one issue, as serious as it is. I'm looking forward to continue to work with the Nation on a wide range of things of joint concern or opportunity.

FortisBC-Woodfibre LNG

With respect to the FortisBC-Woodfibre project, I think potentially one big decision that could be happening is the temporary use permit, or TUP, that's coming up for the Fortis work camp. What kind of a position should we take on it? I think there's there's two schools of thought. With the first, people are just like, ‘The municipality should just say no, and leave it at that.’ On the other hand, there's other people who say, ‘Well, it's going to happen anyway. Why don't we say ‘yes,’ and at least try to control the terms and conditions of it as best as we can.’ So I'm wondering where you might lie on that spectrum?

The first time I saw that may be coming to council was at a public information meeting, potentially the same time you saw it. But, at this point, we don't have an application for a TUP. So if they'd like to proceed with that, which is what's been presented in the public, then, well, they'll need to make that application and then see the details of that and see where that goes. You're right, it is a complex issue. The Fortis-Woodfibre project, for some purposes it's split into two separate Environmental Assessment certificates and all that stuff, but, really, one doesn't happen without the other. I know our community’s highlighted the challenge of housing their workforce since 2015, or earlier. And I continue to be quite frustrated that sort of what feels like the 11th hour, we're seeing what looks like a scramble — or perhaps the plan all along — to address it. I'm not excited about any pieces of that, but I would need to really look at the application and the specifics of the situation and go from there. But yeah, that one will be a challenge if or when it comes forward.


I think a lot of folks, when the pilot projects were announced last year, they were like, ‘Great. We got four spots. Let's go.’ But so far only Merrill Park is piloting and I think it's created this impatience within the community, and they're starting to take their dogs off-leash to places like the estuary and other places where maybe that's not so great.

I don't think that's new behaviour.

I guess what I'm wondering is that, given that the off-leash dog parks are still going to be a ways in the future, and given that I've been talking to conservation officers, and they've been saying experiences bears have with off-leash dogs over and over are making them more prone to aggression — they can't say that's what happened in [during November’s bear attacks], but it could be — how do we address this wildlife conflict potential that we seem to constantly have if we can't give these dog walkers a quick and easy place to go very soon? Because it's taking a while for these pilot projects to happen.

That’s fair. The estuary is a Wildlife Management Area. So that specific designation is really important. And also, ‘wildlife’ is the first part of that name. So the last few years, I've been living downtown, and I've had more wildlife interactions downtown than I have in years living in Brackendale, which is more kind of ‘out there.’ You can see my air quotes. So, I think it's really important that we continue that work, and that's exactly what those projects are hoping to achieve — that there is somewhere to go, if you'd like to have your dog off-leash that matches the way that you would like to be out with your little buddy. So that's what the pilot project’s all about. So Merrill Park, you’re right, is up and running. And I do think there's a need for more. I believe the Brackendale piece will be next. And, yeah, and more work to do there. I also think that creating these spaces allows enforcement in the areas where it's not allowed. Now, until this pilot project, our bylaws are: the dog must be on a leash. But that did not match the overall behaviour of the community.

So we're trying to give that outlet, so we can really enforce it in the Wildlife Management Area and other places where it's not appropriate. And it will take a while to adjust the behaviour of the community. But we're trying to create an environment where there is a spot to be off-leash, but then we can really enforce those required behaviours in these other areas. But this responsibility isn't exclusively that of our bylaw department or our policy or signage. So I think we can do a better job as a community with this particular part, and I know the municipality will continue to do what they can to positively impact this. But, as a community, we need to up our game.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

I would like to go through maybe a few highlights that I think we were really close to getting to. This last year, we saw our new fire hall and emergency operations centre come online. So this is our first big piece of facilities work, actually, with the subsequent pieces to follow, but I'm really proud of that project and of the last mayor and council taking on that work to address our facilities deficit in a meaningful way. And, we know that there's more pieces to do.

The Tantalus fire hall and the public works facility are both funded and in progress, and that allows us to address the fun parts that the community is really excited about with Brennan Park. And with that huge [$11.7-million] amount of [federal] grant funding for that Brennan Park facility, we're gonna see $16-million investment there, which is the first phase. And that was a huge win for the community and kind of exactly how we would like to address the needs there with federal and/or provincial money to work to improve that facility. And so I'm really proud of that.

I know the community hasn't seen the impact of that yet. But the work we do is exactly that — making sure that the planning is in place to position us for funding, securing funding, and then turning the construction folks loose. So I'm quite excited to see that move forward, and I know our community is as well. We did talk about affordable housing, and the establishment of the Squamish Community Housing Society is a major step forward in addressing this in the longer term.

And that society is going to outlive any mayor and council. So if we do get a mayor and council in here at some point in the future that for some reason decides that affordable housing isn't something that concerns them, we've got a strong entity there to advocate for our community in the housing sphere. And I'm really proud of my involvement with that, and I look forward to seeing them grow in their capacity to really take that work on.

You know, in the Westwinds building, the new seniors’ affordable housing building sort of plays as well along that same line. I think that was just an incredible win for the community and shows that working together with an affordable housing entity, in this case, the Seniors Housing Society and the development community, we can achieve some really great results. And if anyone reading this hasn't been over to see that facility, find a way to show up to get there for an event or something else. It's been great. And I'll leave it there. I can probably go on but I wanted to make sure we hit those points, because I feel they're important victories and show that the work is really progressing. And it has some tangible things, and, sometimes, in this work, the victories just aren’t as directly tangible.


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