Squamish zoning bylaw undergoing update

Amendments integral part of implementing the OCP, says District planner

As the District showcased its intentions to update its current zoning bylaw, a number of people raised concerns about development, parking and affordability.

On April 24, dozens were at the Ledge Community Coffee House for an open house regarding the District’s intent to update the zoning bylaw. The municipality said it intended to align the bylaw with the newly minted OCP, as well as modify the regulations to make them more flexible, functional and address gaps.

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Perhaps one of the more pointed audience comments revolved around mixed-use zones.

“The zoning bylaw, like the OCP, is designed, or was put in place, so it could [ensure] certainty for the people that live there, and certainty for the developers, so they knew what to do. But that’s been destroyed over the years here with the use of this comprehensive zoning,” said Terrill Patterson.

“[Residents] are going to be shocked when they find out the zoning bylaw has variable value at protection.... You have to do away with the use of these comprehensive zones.”

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Matt Gunn, District of Squamish planner. - Steven Chua

Comprehensive zones allow for a variety of mixed uses in one area and have been around for some time.

Patterson called for the elimination of comprehensive zones, saying that they rendered useless the difference between residential, industrial and commercial areas.

“Communities are dynamic and there’s a constant state of change — the world is changing around us, and the needs of a community change over time,” replied District planner Matt Gunn.

He added that these were custom zones that were planned out.

Furthermore, zoning can’t be changed without a public process, which allows for public feedback, said Gunn.

Not everyone can be pleased all the time, though, he said.

“That, in the end, comes down to a political decision,” he said. “Sometimes the decisions aren’t favoured by all.”

Another audience member wondered why so much time was spent on a zoning bylaw, if land use can be changed whenever a developer applies to the municipality.

The hotly-contested Garibaldi Springs project was mentioned as an example.

“If we were to create a set of rules that were cast in stone, and there wasn’t an opportunity to change, we would have, probably, more problems with that,” Gunn said.

Other audience questions revolved around accessible parking, the business park, the Wilson Crescent micro plan, growth development boundaries, proximity of housing to the railway and increased density.

Gunn spent much time on a presentation summarizing the municipality’s ambitions with the bylaw update.

Aligning the bylaw with the Official Community Plan, or OCP, was a key goal, he said.

“Making these amendments to the zoning bylaw — they’re really an integral part of implementing the OCP,” said Gunn.

“If we made that vision, but then didn’t change some of the regulations that actually affect what happens on the ground, the OCP would be a bit of a binder on a shelf — it wouldn’t actually end up influencing or achieving the outcomes that we had hoped to create.”

The update, he said, would develop marine zoning, which would allow the municipality some control over facilities and structures on the water.

Creating more support for affordable housing was another aspect. Some of these measures included support for other housing options such as fee simple row housing, duplexes and accessory dwelling units.

With respect to flexibility, Gunn said the goal was to increase the amount of some permitted uses.

This includes possibly greenlighting commercial and residential uses on the same floor and allowing commissary kitchens for restaurants.

Measures will also be put in to add more clarity to the zoning bylaw, Gunn said.

The update will also tackle gaps in the bylaw, such as incompatible land uses, he said.

Some examples include adding basic regulations, such as minimum frontage widths, that are sometimes missing from zones.

It also means cracking down on some loopholes, such as cases where certain permitted uses overlap, which could result in unforeseen consequences.

Some were pleased with the District’s efforts.

“This exercise here is valuable,” said Alex Zbar, one of the attendees after the presentation. He said he valued the idea of a flexible framework for the zoning bylaw.

“I’m impressed that there’s some pretty heads-up people working in our District,” said Linda Wood.

There were several people in attendance who felt van-lifers were getting excluded from the community.

Emily Webb, who lives in a school bus, was one of them.

“When we first got to Squamish, anywhere we parked our bus that we lived in, the bylaw officers were called on us,” Webb said. “It really left a bad taste in our mouth.”

Another person was concerned about traffic in neighbourhoods as densification increases.

Colin Rombough said that a development proposal in Valleycliffe could increase congestion, which could be a problem in case of an emergency, such as a wildfire.

“There’s only one way in and out of Valleycliffe,” he said.

Wildlife corridors were another item Rombough said he wanted to be taken into account during the zoning update. The open house is one of the first steps the District is taking on the zoning bylaw update. Staff will then start developing bylaws later this year, followed by a public review process.

The final bylaw is expected to be adopted in spring 2020.

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