Council’s considerations to impose a temporary halt on new commercial activity in the business park is a step in the right direction.
Restaurants, retailers and gyms are good for Squamish, but they do not offer the types of jobs that will allow locals to stay and work in town.
Asking anyone to make long-term plans to live here when the options for employment are limited mostly to low-paying service jobs is not a recipe for keeping locals local.
This is especially a problem when rent prices have virtually matched those of the big city.
To their credit, a number of restaurants and retailers have gone out of their way to offer better wages and benefits. But this can only go so far.
It’s a very common narrative in town for people to enter into a low-paying service job, hit a pay ceiling, and, after realizing there is little to no opportunity for advancement, leave.
If Squamish is to have a self-sustaining economy, it needs to broaden the scope of businesses that choose to settle here.
With that in mind, the business park must remain a place where industrial spaces are preserved.
District planners say, however, that this area is in danger of having its industrial businesses crowded out.
Mechanics, heavy equipment suppliers, skilled trade shops and others are at risk of losing their place here.
The problem, as we’ve heard from the planners, lies in several details.
First, restaurants, retailers, and gyms have regulations that are generally more stringent than those of industrial shops.
Because these places often hold more people at any one time, safety codes have more requirements in cases of emergencies such as fires.
This creates complications when you have, for example, a restaurant and an auto repair shop that are both tenants in the same building.
In some cases, this could force the repair shop to renovate its side of the building to accommodate the safety requirements of the restaurant.
This added cost can be insurmountable.
Furthermore, planners say that commercial businesses are required to provide more parking than industrial businesses. Therefore, more space needs to be set aside for parking, which leaves less for industrial shops.
Finally, planners say that landlords have a tendency to charge higher rent in areas where commercial businesses have settled. Yet again, another extra cost is added.
There’s no question that putting a halt to new commercial activity in the business park could cause some short-term pain.
But in the long run, this could ensure Squamish’s economy isn’t overly reliant on McJobs.