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Developing Squamish: housing and commercial project clears hurdle at council

After public hearing, council unanimously passes third reading for Third Avenue project.

More housing and commercial units are slated for Third Avenue in Squamish’s downtown. 

On March 7, after a public hearing, council unanimously passed third readings for two zonings that are part of the same project. 

In total, the development will create 123 housing units and space for several businesses between two buildings on either side of the street. 

The project involves associated lots 38029, 38035 and 38045 Third Avenue and 38028, 38040, 38048, 38054 and 38062 Third Avenue, which are located on either side of the street near the Howe Sound Women’s Centre.

The applicant, Taizo Yamamoto of Yamamoto Architecture Inc., is seeking approval to rezone the eight properties from Residential 2 (RS-2) to Downtown Commercial zones, which would then be developed into two mixed commercial and residential buildings.

According to a District staff report, the eight properties under consideration have historically been developed and used as single-family residences. 

The first two readings for these two associated projects were passed by council on Feb. 7, thus triggering a public hearing for them both, which was held on March 7 before elected officials voted on the third reading. 

Though it is one proponent, the project was considered as two separate projects by council and during the public hearing. 

Public hearing

West side

On the project's west side — on the three-lot consolidation — is slated to be a six-storey building with commercial units at street level, a second-level parkade with 53 parking stalls, and 45 living units above. 

Speaking of the west side of the development, nearby resident Steve Jacobs told council that construction of other developments downtown has already prevented him from using his deck for the last three years. 

He also said parking in his neighbourhood on Third Avenue was already limited, and this project would worsen it. 

"Competition is fierce, and it is not going to improve," he said. "Every time we put another building, something has got to give."

Jacobs also said he would rather the development be of a smaller scale. 

Resident Rose Laure Agbazan said she was neither for nor against the project, but said, as a local business owner, she finds her clients struggle to find parking as it is.

"With this development, it will be a little bit more complicated to find parking for everyone around," she said, adding that there also isn't enough affordable housing in the project, in her view.

"It is good to make commercial space to improve the city ... but if we don't have enough affordable housing, we can't have staff," she said. 

Prior to the public hearing, District staff said a total of three written comments were received about this portion of the project. 

One concern expressed was for open space between buildings. 

Other concerns included loss of privacy, possible disturbances from rooftop patio, the height of the building compared with neighbouring homes, problems with street parking, and not enough affordable housing. 

Positive comments the District received included mid-block connections in the project and rooftop amenity space, staff said.

East side of project

For the second rezoning application on the east side of the project, the five-lot consolidation would see a six-storey mixed-commercial building that would also see commercial at ground level, a parkade with 99 parking spots on site, and 78 residential units above. 

As an amenity contribution, up to about 3, 000 square feet of space would be transferred to a local non-profit housing provider to own and operate. 

In addition to Jacobs, who reiterated his earlier comments for this side of the project, District staff said three written comments were received before the meeting. There was concern for open space between buildings in one written submission. Other concerns included loss of views, loss of privacy, loss of a tree on the east block, possible disturbances due to rooftop patios, concern over the height of the building compared with neighbouring homes, problems with street parking and not enough affordable housing.

Positive comments included the mid-block connection and rooftop amenity space.

Council weighs in

"The council decision is going to be a disappointment to some, I am sure," said Coun. John French, adding he heard the concerns raised, but he supported the project. 

The theme of having listened to concerns raised was echoed by other councillors as well. 

Explaining his support, French pointed to "much-needed housing" that the project will bring, in addition to the space for a non-profit housing provider.

A few councillors stressed that while the percentage of affordable housing may not be what some wanted to see, the fact that the non-profit will own the space, not just operate it, was a big plus, they noted.

"The project will also deliver new ground-level commercial space that I think has the potential to bring some exciting new retail opportunities to our downtown. The mid-block cut-through contributes to the walkability and the rideability of our downtown. And these two projects are yet another downtown development that will make it easy for residents to live in the complex and easily function without needing to own a vehicle, thanks to things like ample bike storage [and] easy walkability, to grocery stores, medical offices, dental care, and car share vehicles that are parked just blocks away," said French. 

Coun. Jenna Stoner said she heard loud and clear the issues around the impact of construction and increased parking issues on downtown residents, but ultimately, those things need to be addressed and are being addressed with wider District strategies, such as the parking feasibility study that is underway, she said.

She praised the 20% employment space within the project. 

"The 20% of employment space was a huge driver through the conversations as this development moved through. So I'm really happy to see that we got there as well as with mid-block cut-throughs because I think that adds vibrancy to our downtown core and facilitates how people move around."

Mayor Armand Hurford echoed other councillors and added that builders share some of the responsibility for issues raised by residents. 

"These are all things that we could better regulate as a municipality — absolutely. But also, our building community could self-regulate themselves and be a good neighbour as they go about their business. Ideally, both of those things happen."

While there will be a fourth reading — adoption — of the rezonings at a future council meeting, it is rare for a development to be stopped at that point.

Thus, council's passing of third reading means this project has the green light to move forward, for all intents and purposes. 

Hear what all elected officials had to say, or watch the full meeting on YouTube.

~ With files from Andrew Hughes/The Squamish Chief

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