The proposed Squamish Canyon tourist attraction jumped over two major hurdles at muni hall on Jan. 7.
District council voted unanimously in favour of granting the development its first two readings for its rezoning. The next step will be a public hearing.
The project seeks to rezone 10.5 hectares of land currently designated residential and ecological reserve and protection into a comprehensive development zone.
This would allow the proponent to create, among other things, 800 metres of elevated boardwalk and roughly 200 metres of canyon walkway. The proposal includes washrooms, a children’s play area, a concession stand and a small stage. During its second phase, two bridges would be added over the canyon as well as additional elevated boardwalks with lookout platforms.
The project includes 2,000 square metres of floor space for buildings, though it may not necessarily use all of it. An extra amount was given to allow for flexibility, said planner Kerry Hamilton.
A staff report estimates about 109,000 visitors will come to the attraction in its first year of operation.
Council’s vote of support arrived after it received over 20 letters in favour of the development before the meeting. Separate to that package of letters, the municipality received over 50 comments over the course of the last year that detailed mixed reactions to the project. The District told The Chief that all letters will be available for the public to see during the public hearing.
“We support development which protects and celebrates our natural environment while accommodating traditional recreationalists access to the area,” reads a letter from Matt Parker, president of the Squamish Trails Society.
“As a potential benefit, a formal presence in this area may help deter illegal camping and dumping along this road.”
Another letter arrived from Tourism Squamish.
“We believe that the Squamish Canyon project will help to fill a gap in our current offerings by providing a year-round weather independent experience for the whole family regardless of age or ability,” said Lesley Weeks, the executive director of the association.
Much discussion at council revolved around traffic.
Staff recommended that the proponent be responsible for making minor upgrades to the intersection at Highway 99 and the Mamquam River Forest Service Road.
This included raised channelized islands to better delineate traffic flow for users of both the highway and the forest service road, as well as a slip lane for people turning north onto the highway to allow for better merging with traffic.
Staff noted a traffic impact assessment was done on how the project would affect that intersection.
During the meeting it was noted the intersection is currently not well-suited for traffic, and there was talk of adding more extensive upgrades.
“The main impacts shown in the report are due to [the town’s] growth, not due to the actual vehicles coming from the canyon traffic,” said Devin Kiyonaga, municipal engineer.
Kiyonaga said that because the assessment showed the project has minimal impact on traffic, he didn’t know if it would be appropriate for Squamish Canyon to be responsible for a major overhaul.
“The bottom line is that there are small things that can be done now to improve safety in general for this intersection...so that’s what’s being recommended,” he said.
“Anything above and beyond that, at this point, we really see as overkill for this project.”
Staff said Squamish Canyon would allow its parking area to be used by other recreationalists in the area.
A public hearing date has yet to be set.
***This article has been updated to state that separate from the package of letters received before the meeting, the municipality has received over 50 messages regarding the project over the course of the last year. Those messages detailed mixed reactions. The District told The Chief that all letters will be available for the public to see during the public hearing.