OPINION: Assessing development in Squamish

Is there any logic to the make-or-break residential and commercial development scene in Squamish? 

Two Years ago, Doug Day sold the Garibaldi Springs Golf Course to Polygon Developments, after a futile battle with the District to convert the links into a housing subdivision. Day’s proposal stalled amidst concerns by some members of the public and council about the impact on the neighbourhood’s character and the loss of greenspace.     

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But in October Polygon got the green light to launch a residential development on that property.

Meanwhile, an application by Bob Cheema to develop more than 400 acres north of the Garibaldi Highlands continues to be stymied by a stipulation in the Official Community Plan that restricts consideration of residential builds in certain areas until Squamish’s population reaches 34,000.

In what appears to be a faint hope clause, the proposal could be reconsidered once the numbers reach 22,500 if the proponent provides “extraordinary community benefits.”                                                                                                                                

Last March, the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association, a group that has traditionally accessed the trails on the property, agreed to a precedent-setting memorandum of understanding with Cheema to transform the land into Canada’s first bike-in, bike-out mountain bike community.                                                                                                                                  

During the recent municipal election, The Chief solicited opinions from prospective candidates about various issues, including the Cheema venture. Eric Andersen and John French stated they were “very supportive” of the project. Jenna Stoner was “somewhat supportive” while Doug Race and Armand Hurford were “neutral.” Karen Elliott was “somewhat opposed.” Chris Pettingill did not respond to the questionnaire.                                                                                           

While Bob Cheema is convinced he’s getting the bum’s rush from municipal movers and shakers, it appears everything local entrepreneur Michael Hutchison sets his sights on turns into a gold rush. Hutchison is one of the Sea to Sky Gondola’s founding partners, a Squamish tourism mainstay which welcomed its one-millionth visitor last January after garnering international acclaim.

In 2009, Hutchison took over as the vice-chair of the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation and chair of the finance and audit committee. Four years later, his firm Bethel Lands Corporation Ltd in partnership with Matthews Southwest (MSW) got the nod from the District of Squamish to develop the site. 

Bethel and MSW also partnered with the Squamish Nation on the proposed Cheekye development in Brackendale. But recently Bethel cashed out of the Cheekye and Oceanfront ventures. Although she doesn’t have access to all the details related to the transaction, in a recent email exchange former mayor Patricia Heintzman speculated that MSW bought Bethel out because the company wants to focus on Cheekye and the Oceanfront, while Bethel has other priorities, including a development on the Mamquam Blind Channel, which will feature the first float home community in Squamish.  As well, officials at Quest University recently announced they are partnering with Bethel to monetize undeveloped lands on the campus for the sustainable financial support of the university.                                                                                                            

As it turns out, to be successful in the Squamish real estate sweepstakes, being in the right place at the right time is crucial. The capacity to assess which way the wind is blowing across the development landscape and at muni hall also helps.




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