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Cheema Land proposal reappears

SORCA, District of Squamish councillors in attendance during Aug. 27 open house
More than 35 people attended the latest open house on the proposed Cheema Lands development.

Plans for the Cheema Lands have resurfaced in the public eye for the first time since the October election.

On Aug. 27, more than 35 people attended the latest open house for the proposed development north of Garibaldi Highlands.

Proponents of the project again branded their project as one built with the avid mountain biker in mind, touting a setup similar to that of a ski-in, ski-out community. During the presentation, Brent Harley of Brent Harley & Associates (BHA) said consultants and engineers are analyzing the landscape’s possibilities and the existing trail system.

Harley said the open house aims to update the public on the proposal, although a new draft of the proposal is not yet scheduled to appear before District of Squamish council again.

The whole site is 420 acres and, although on private property, home to some of Squamish’s long-established mountain biking trails. Harley said the development intends to make a dedicated recreation reserve of 227 acres, leaving a gross development area of 193 acres — meaning mountain biking would have a dedicated area that takes up more than half the site.

The strata or stratas would be medium-density residential, potentially with some commercial ventures such as cafes and a variety store, a parking area and a public school. A public road would connect to Pia Road in Garibaldi Highlands.

As for the mountain bike trails, Harley said BHA has experience with designing mountain bike trails for ski resorts. Twenty per cent of the trails would be for beginners, 60 per cent for intermediate trails and 20 per cent for advanced riding.

There are still a few remaining obstacles. To go forward, the development will ask the District of Squamish to amend the Official Community Plan (OCP) and change the land’s classification from “future residential” to residential. They would also ask that the growth management boundary be changed to include lots 509 and 510, which are the Cheema Lands.

In an email ahead of the open house, the District’s director of planning Jonas Velaniskis said, “The District has not seen a recent draft for a proposed development on DL 509 and 510. District policy in the new Official Community Plan identifies that a development application outside of the District’s growth management boundary (which DL 509 and 510 are located) would only be considered when the population reaches 34,000, or 22,500 if the impacts associated with growth are addressed by the proposal. There are also several guiding policy precursors that are recommended to be developed prior to any development outside of the growth management boundary.”

The last time the Cheema Lands proposal was before council was nearly a year ago, when council voted not to remove the population threshold in October 2018. The Cheemas purchased the land in 2006.  The most recent census results, from 2016, showed a population of 19,893. A new census is currently being conducted by the government.

“We have the number from the last census, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that we’re not at that number anymore,” Coun. John French said after hearing the Aug. 27 presentation. “There’s been a lot of new housing units that have come online since that census was conducted. I tend to think we are probably pretty close to that 22,500 number.” 

French said he hasn’t had conversations with the other councillors specific to the project and the growth management boundary (councillors Armand Hurford and Jenna Stoner also attended the open house), but he has heard comments and concerns from the community, particularly around environmental and trail conservation.

“There are some long-established trails on that property that have significant sentimental value,” he said. “Jack’s Trail would be the heart of it.”

Jack’s Trail was built on old railway beds, and serves as a connection between mountain biking trails at Alice Lake and Garibaldi Highlands. Jack’s Trail and Rollercoaster were identified in the presentation as potentially being altered.

“It looks to me like the developer is taking all of that into consideration,” French said, also applauding SORCA’s involvement. He added that he was impressed with the turnout to the open house, especially given the nice weather on the summer evening.

“I think we need to just wait for the Cheemas to come with something formal.”

During the question period, Usman Valiante, a SORCA board member, said a team from SORCA has been working with the developer to preserve and connect
the trails. 

“From SORCA’s perspective, we’re not here to endorse the project or oppose the project. We’re here for trail users — and that includes all trail users — to make sure that those trails are not just preserved, but that they’re functionally viable,” Valiante said.  “As the planners have said, this is a work in progress. When it comes down to actually rezoning and actually putting metre-level accuracy, it’s going to be very critical that we have that insight into what’s going on. I think the dialogue we’ve got going is going to allow us to do that when it comes down to actually figuring out where specific trails end, where they drop to a common fairway and how that fairway connects to something else....”

Others at the presentation asked a number of questions, including population numbers for the residential development and the impact on traffic to Pia Road and Perth Drive.  When asked about when the development will approach council again, Harley said it depends on when the population threshold is met. “We don’t want to be an annoyance. We want to be there at the right time.” Toward the end of the question period, one mountain biker complained about the fence installed at the trail head at Perth Drive. Harley said they would consider the suggestion to widen the entrance, and asked the public to come forward with feedback, comments.

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