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Eco reserve approved for Squamish development

Polygon’s promised greenspace at Garibaldi Springs on its way.
Garibaldi springs eco reserve
Map of ecological reserve slated for Garibaldi Springs.

District of Squamish council has given a long-awaited ecological reserve the green light.

On April 6, council voted unanimously in favour of approving a development permit for Garibaldi Springs that lays the foundation for a sprawling greenspace in a new development.

The permit will be issued to Polygon Development 339 Ltd.

It’s the latest chapter in the Garibaldi Springs project, which will turn the former golf course by the Executive Suites into a new residential area.

Back in 2018, after a very heated debate, the council of the day voted in favour of rezoning the area in a manner that would allow Polygon to develop the former course.

“The proposal was the subject of an extensive debate last term,” said Coun. Doug Race. “And this development evolved over a couple of years to the point it’s at today and the rezoning.

During that process, I think we ended up with — in my personal opinion — is a development proposal that had not just benefit for that development, but had great benefit for the wider community.”

The most significant community amenity contribution of that deal was a promise to dedicate 36.69 of the 48.35 hectares of the property as an ecological reserve to the municipality.

“The site itself has [much] environmental value...several watercourses bisect the lands that are all salmon-bearing, some with salmon spawning habitat,” said Caroline Ashekian, the municipality’s environmental co-ordinator.

“There are species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals also throughout the site. “And, also, species of risk, critical habitat — and these are areas that have been provincially and federally designated as lands that are critical for particular species and, in this case, pacific water shrew and marbled murrelet.”

Normally, a permit like this would not have to appear before council for a vote, as developmental permits for environmental protection are usually delegated to staff.

However, it was being brought before elected officials because Polygon was requesting a variance on this permit.

This variance proposed the use of riparian buffer averaging. Riparian areas refer to zones near water, such as areas surrounding streams, rivers, lakes and ponds. Buffers generally refer to space where buildings may not be constructed.

Previously, staff said calculations that were made under the B.C. Riparian Area Protection Regulation concluded that riparian buffers must be 30 metres in this development.

However, under the proposal of riparian buffer averaging, a hard 30-metre rule does not have to be maintained, so long as there is an overall average of 30 metres.

For example, in some areas the buffer may go to a minimum of 20 metres, while in others it may reach a maximum of 40 metres.

The idea is that a decrease in buffer in one area is balanced out by an increase in another, and vice versa, so that the average is 30 metres.

There will also be cases where some existing ponds will be infilled, but these intrusions beyond the buffer minimum must be offset by a 2:1 habitat compensation ratio.

Staff said Polygon is offering a 2.57:1 ratio for works contributing to habitat compensation.

A combination of municipal and senior levels of government — such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada — will be overseeing at least some of the work done on the property.

Council was widely supportive of the proposal.

“I think that the variances requested are relatively minor and won’t, I don’t think, negatively impact that benefit that significantly,” said Race.

“In fact, I think we end up — as staff mentioned — with a significant benefit, net benefit, after those are all taken into place.”

Mayor Karen Elliott said the variances were acceptable.

“I think the variances that are requested work with the realities of the site,” said Elliott.

“I think they are reasonable.... It makes sense to me; I think we’ll have a jewel in our community in a few years’ time.”

Coun. Jenna Stoner noted that there will be multiple agencies overseeing the work on the site.

“I do think it’s challenging when there are so many different regulatory authorities that are responsible for monitoring the various outcomes,” said Stoner. “It is a complex area.”

She said it would be important to inform the public how the area is being improved as the project progresses.