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Squamish's Oceanfront Park plans revealed

Beaches, windsports areas, non-motorized boat launch are among the highlights

Newport Beach Developments unveiled plans for its Oceanfront Park, making significant headway for what's hoped to be the revitalization of the former Nexen Beach lands.

Initial stages in getting the project running have taken years and included extensive public consultation.

Newport's showcase, which was held in Howe Sound Brewing on Nov. 29, provides the most concrete snapshot of what's in store for the future of the park.

"I think the biggest thing that we were trying to do was just encapsulate all the needs and wants of all the various constituents and try and make sure we got a little bit of something for everybody out there," said John Matthews, principal of development firm Matthews Southwest.

"It's more capturing the general feel and want of not only our survey that we did last year, but all the work that led up to now.... I think we've done that."

Matthews Southwest, along with the Squamish Nation, form Squamish Cornerstone Developments.

This partnership is what's driving Newport Beach Developments, the company behind the Oceanfront Park, as well as the sizeable residential-commercial development that will be surrounding it.

As part of the deal to develop the area, Newport has agreed to construct the Oceanfront Park and hand it over to the District of Squamish to become public property.

It appears as if the District is happy with how things are turning out.

"I think it's good," said acting mayor Doug Race, who was in charge while Mayor Karen Elliott was on vacation. "It takes into account things that I think we wanted to get out of that."

A diagram of the Oceanfront Park that was on display during the open house.

Amenities in the park were divided into four main groups.

First were the beaches — one for the general public and another for watersports.

Second were miscellaneous park elements, which included a children's play area; a pick-up and drop-off area; paths; boardwalks; a monument; a kite and windsurfing staging area; covered outdoor seating; benches; picnic tables; a public washroom; and a slackline, among other things.

The third major element included habitat areas for wildlife, such as fish and birds. Trails will pass nearby, but fences will deter pedestrians from entering protected areas.

Finally, the last major element is the boating facility, which includes a non-motorized boat launch; storage for hand-launched boats; a floating dock; and a temporary parking, pickup and drop-off area for boaters. 

One of the key points of the design addressed previous concerns that waves would push sand away from the beach.

To address that issue, consulting firm Anchor QEA designed the beaches with an inverted concave shape.

"What we did there is orient the beach perpendicular to those waves, so the waves are hitting it directly," said Peter Hummel, the principal landscape architect at the company.

"Because if they hit it at an angle, they'll move it along the shoreline."

Carlos Zavarce, a planner with Newport Beach Developments, also said the area was designed with the understanding that sea levels will rise as a result of climate change.

"We're not designing just for today, we're designing for 100 years from now," Zavarce said.

Developers are raising the residential-commercial zone by roughly three metres. As result, the park will also be raised on a graded scale — lowest by the water, getting higher further inland until it closes in on the three-metre mark.

Windsports were also a key factor in the design of the park.

Jamie Martin, a director with the Squamish Windsports Society, said the organization had input in the process.

"We're out as close to the wind and out front as possible and away from the public for safety," Martin said of the windsports beach location.

He said he was happy with how the design has turned out.

"The Spit will still be the Number 1 spot," he added.

The park wasn't designed with the intention of replacing the Spit, which is the most popular area for windsports in Squamish.

Some members of the Squamish Nation also gave positive reviews. Hereditary Chief Dale Harry and Nation Coun. Deanna Lewis said they liked what they saw.

Harry noted that he'd like to see artwork from the Squamish Nation displayed in the area, though.

However, there were three things on Squamish residents' wish list that didn't make the cut — an off-leash area for dogs, a motorized boat launch and a splash park.

Residents have been hoping for an off-leash dog park for quite some time, and results from Newport Developments' public surveys showed it was considered an item that would make the Oceanfront Park more appealing in the off-season.

However, planners ruled out the park for the time being, saying a good off-leash zone hadn't been identified.

Dogs off-leash wouldn't interact well with beachgoers, windsports users or the protected environmental areas, all three of will be prominent in the park, they said. Designers also reasoned there weren't any ideal areas to put enclosed fencing for dogs to roam freely.

A motorized boat launch didn't fit in either, planners said. Demands for a launch became prominent in the community once residents learned the Squamish Yacht Club boat launch is in danger of closing sometime in the future.

However, it seems the Oceanfront Park won't be the place for its replacement.

Race, a boater himself, noted that it would be a great challenge to accommodate parking space requirements for a motorized launch in Newport.

He said the District is still considering the possibility of having a launch in Darrell Bay, though this is subject to negotiations the municipality has with Woodfibre LNG for access in that area.

A splash park was absent from the plans, though it ranked second-highest on what the community asked for in the Newport public consultation survey.

Planners decided it was a bad fit, given the windiness of the area. It was also deemed redundant, given the closeness of the location to the water.

***CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said the plans will be going to council for endorsement, which is what the acting mayor told The Chief. However, the District's general manager has since clarified the plans have already been approved.