Almost 400 locals are opposing development in the Garibaldi Estates amidst a series of letters inquiring about a potential land assembly in that neighbourhood.
On Sept. 21, a petition bearing signatures from people all across Squamish was presented to council, urging elected officials to avoid densifying the neighbourhood. It also called for a halt on any efforts to remove the existing VLA, or Veterans’ Lands Act, bylaw.
Earlier this year, real estate brokerage firm London Pacific sent out letters to homeowners in the Estates.
The message noted that more density may be allocated in the area, which may increase the value of the land. It noted that London Pacific is engaging with some people in the area. It also described London Pacific as a real estate brokerage which specializes in land assembly, among other things.
Finally, the message asked if residents would be interested in exploring a potential opportunity.
This prompted widespread backlash in the community.
“The land speculators don’t live here, are not vested in the community, do not volunteer to coach our children’s soccer or belong to the volunteer fire department, their only goal is to turn a profit,” reads the petition, which was started by Paul Kindree.
“In doing so, they will drive up prices, increase our taxes and, in turn, destroy our neighbourhood. lt also seems very foolish to direct the planning department to spend time, effort and taxpayers’ money on a neighbourhood rezoning initiative that the neighbourhood doesn’t want.”
The letter residents received about the prospective land assembly, which The Chief was sent a copy of, doesn’t name who is interested in potentially developing the area. London Pacific is a real estate broker but not a developer.
Over several days, The Chief called and emailed London Pacific real estate agents, but they did not agree to go on the record before the press deadline.
While the letter does not mention who may be interested in developing the area, the petition brought forth to council cites a numbered corporation as a potential developer.
The Chief reached out to a person identified as one of the company’s directors in the provincial corporate registry, but did not receive a response from this person before press deadline.
During council’s meeting on Sept. 21, elected officials noted that it seemed as if the developer was getting ahead of itself.
“This is what happens when a developer tries to get in front of the community planning process and lit people’s fire before we had even begun the engagement,” said Mayor Karen Elliott at the council meeting.
She said there’s still a lengthy community engagement process to come.
“The risk is all [the developer’s] at this point,” said Elliott. “There is no guarantee. We are certainly not rezoning anything. We don’t do that in neighbourhood plans — just provide a roadmap for how the community feels the neighbourhood should develop over time.
She said she heard the concerns of the community, but noted that the conversation on this matter hasn’t even started yet.
Coun. Doug Race said that it would be best, in this case, to host a public information meeting soon.
Council has received a number of emails over the last several months with similar concerns regarding the matter, he said.
“Let them come out and let people hear from staff directly and ask questions,” Race said.
He said the planners have written a response to one group of people, but that message doesn’t appear to have made its way to the rest of the community.
The petitioners believe that the neighbourhood planning process could disrupt the area and threaten the historic veterans’ lands.
At least some of the lands in the Estates are subject to the VLA, or Veteran Lands Act Bylaw, which was originally intended to be a soldier settlement program for returning veterans.
District spokesperson Rachel Boguski told The Chief that the VLA has served its original intended purpose of providing housing stability for returning soldiers. The land is now in the free market and is no longer reserved for veterans.
“The new housing challenge is to address middle-class Canadians who are getting priced out of the housing market, because the cost of housing has increased dramatically in relation to their incomes,” she said in a written statement. “The District is working to address this challenge by creating flexibility in our land use to accommodate smaller, attached housing forms.”
She added that Squamish’s Official Community Plan, or OCP, identifies the Estates as an area in need for neighbourhood planning.
At the same time, she said, the OCP provides clear direction to repeal the VLA, or Veteran Lands, Bylaw 211, 1966, and to support infill development near the Garibaldi Estates commercial area.
“These policies were developed as part of the multi-year public engagement process that led to the adoption of the OCP,” she wrote.
“The Garibaldi Estates Neighbourhood Planning process is not intended nor designed to support the speculative real estate activities of companies.”
Since the OCP was adopted in 2018, she wrote, developers have been approaching municipal staff about the area.
However, Boguski wrote that the District has been asking developers to wait until the neighbourhood planning process is complete before submitting any applications.
“The District has not provided any information to developers who may be buying or selling land in advance of this process,” she wrote. “Land speculation is strongly discouraged at this time given that there is no certainty regarding the potential outcome of the planning process. To be clear, if developers are approaching property owners, they are doing so before the District and the neighbourhood residents have had a chance to develop the neighbourhood plan.”