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Squamish residents speak out against possible densification of their neighbourhood

The Stop The Squamish Infill movement began after a real estate broker delivered flyers to homes in the Garibaldi Estates earlier this year.

Editor's note: The Chief has made a correction in the story below. We published erroneous information that had not been fact-checked, and we extend a sincere apology for the harm that may have caused.

The paragraph pertaining to the Mayor’s attendance at the event is corrected to: "The mayor attended the event via the live stream that had been provided to her by the organizers. She was unable to attend in person as she had family commitments that she needed to attend to."

Residents voiced their opposition to rapid development and density, while levelling criticisms at Squamish's Official Community Plan at an independently-organized town hall event.

On Nov. 24, speakers from the Stop The Squamish Infill group gave talks before an audience of dozens in the Howe Sound Secondary gym. The event was also streamed on YouTube, and at 8:21 p.m. there were 27 people watching online.

The Stop The Squamish Infill movement, began after a real estate broker delivered flyers to homes in the Garibaldi Estates earlier this year. The letters noted that more density may be allocated in the area as a result of the municipality's upcoming neighbourhood planning process for the Estates.

In the message, the broker, London Pacific, described itself as experienced in land assembly, among other things. It did not name the developer it was working on behalf of.

This prompted a petition with over 400 signatures to be brought to council. The petitioners said the neighbourhood planning process could disrupt the area, and threaten the historic veterans' lands.

The District has said that there will be a neighbourhood planning process for the Estates and the outcome has not been determined. Public engagement is part of the planning process.

During the townhall meeting, April Lowe, a resident of the Estates, told the crowd that densification would lead to problems with transportation and affordability.

Traffic and parking would be major issues if the area was densified, she said.

Much of the town commutes for work and, as a result, cars are a necessity, she said. Vehicles are also needed for much of the recreational activity in the area.

"To ask people to park their cars, or, in most cases, their trucks and get around exclusively by bike just isn't a reality. Fun fact — we get three times the amount of annual rainfall of a commuter biking lifestyle like Amsterdam," said Lowe.

"To ask mothers or mobility-challenged citizens to take their bikes to a neighbourhood hub, especially given the amount of rain in the case of Squamish is ridiculous. To expect people to ride the bus when they have two or three vehicles at their disposal is also unrealistic."

Therefore, if the area is densified, traffic will become a major problem and there will be little or no parking available.

She was also critical of the District's idea that densification will increase the amount of housing, and, therefore, drive prices down.

"The bottom line, however, is that no one can control the price of homes in Squamish," said Lowe. "Developers aren't here to provide affordable housing. They're here to make a lot of money, and Squamish is ripe for the picking.

Ultimately, Lowe advocated for slower development that conforms with the neighbourhood's character.

"Be choosy about which developers and which projects we want," she said. "We can set the priorities."

Paul Kindree, who organized the original petition, also spoke.

Kindree said that Veterans' Land Act, or VLA, lots in the Estates were part of a soldier resettlement program. It was initially intended to give returning veterans farmland, but when it was found that not all soldiers wanted to be farmers, the government downsized some of the lot sizes.

That land would be used for small-scale agriculture such as growing fruit and vegetables for personal use or supplemental income

He said that any justification the municipality had for repealing the VLA lots would likely be a result of the District's perception that the lands were no longer used for farming or livestock, as he noted municipal documents say they have historically been used for those purposes.

However, he said there has never been any farming or livestock on the VLA lands, and that resettled soldiers only used their lands for family gardens at most.

Kindree said that this land is still being used in that same manner to this day, and pointed to a survey that Stop The Infill organizers had conducted in the Estates.

"What we found out was really interesting: 45% of the neighbours had fruit trees. 58% had berry bushes, 76% had vegetable gardens, and 85% had flower gardens," he said.

"Contrary to what the District of Squamish claims, these properties are being used precisely as they were intended."

Kindree also said that having people grow their own food at home was crucial to battling the climate crisis.

It would provide food security and reduce the carbon footprint of locals.

Finally, Devin Biln, another resident of the Estates, spoke about the Official Community Plan.

He said he had studied the document and the engagement process and found several things that he was concerned about.

One issue, he said, was that the OCP prejudices the Estates' neighbourhood planning process to include densification, when the outcome should not be pre-determined.

He said he had concerns about how questionnaires were phrased during the OCP engagement process.

"There's the appearance, to me, of leading language in the way surveys and questions were crafted," Biln said. "They were really presented in positive ways without tradeoffs."

Biln also said he was concerned there was a disconnect between the public engagement data and the recommendations that staff had been giving to council at the time the OCP was being deliberated.

"I ask that council direct staff to make provision for a citizen advisory committee of some sort to help allay community concerns about the transparency and authenticity of the process," said Biln. "Right now, the community has no representation in how planning staff treat our data."

He also said only a small portion of the population engaged in the process.

According to the District, during the OCP engagement process, there were "4,000 unique engagements out of a population of 19,893."

Engagement for the future of the Estates' development should be current and not based on an OCP that's several years old, Biln said.

He also called for the OCP to be treated as a living document that offers guidance but not as a set of commandments etched in stone.

Audience members also had a chance to comment at the event.

One resident said that given the planet's exploding population and the climate crisis, it's unrealistic for people to expect to continue to consume things at the same rate. This was in response to Lowe's talk on vehicles and housing.

Other commenters decried the lack of affordable housing, how people who grew up in Squamish cannot buy a house in town anymore, and, in one case, how a nearby development had devalued a residential property.

Another commenter said it feels like staff are directing council rather than the other way around.

There was also the sentiment that the District was helping build a community for people out of town, rather than for those who currently live in Squamish.

Councillors Armand Hurford, Chris Pettingill, Eric Andersen and John French attended as audience members but did not speak.

The mayor attended the event via the live stream that had been provided to her by the organizers. She was unable to attend in person as she had family commitments that she needed to attend to.