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Surf park proposed for Britannia Beach passes first hurdle

The proposed development received first reading at a Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board meeting in December

A surf park proposed for the Sea to Sky corridor’s Britannia Beach is one step closer to fruition.

The project overcame the first hurdle in its approval process when Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) directors unanimously gave first reading to a pair of bylaw amendments for Tiger Bay Development Corp. at a board meeting on Dec. 15, 2021. 

It’s a milestone achievement, said Tiger Bay’s head of development Tony Petricevic.

“Because of the scale of the project, it’s just taken a long time to get to that point,” he said.

If the venture crosses the finish line, the year-round surf park would likely be the first of its kind built in Canada. Petricevic anticipates a targeted opening date in late 2024.

The park will be powered by Wavegarden Cove wave-making technology, already in use at several other facilities around the world. Though the two-sided pool itself can accommodate up to 90 people at one time, there can be a maximum of six people actively surfing the waves—spaced out by eight- to 10-second intervals—at once. (Scroll down for footage of Wavegarden's technology in action.)

Petricevic said support has so far been high not just from Surf Canada and athletes eager for a training facility closer to home, but from the general public as well. “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds ... of people emailing us their thoughts, and I’d say that probably 95 per cent of them are just pure excitement to see a surf park built in the area,” he explained.

The beauty of having a surf park on the mainland, Petricevic added, is “rather than going surfing a few times a year, you’d [be able to] go a few times in a week, so your surfing will get much better so when you do go out and experience decent natural waves, you will be that much better.

“It’s a sports facility to improve your skills and for you to enjoy the sport more—and to grow the sport more significantly, as well.”

‘A NEW EXCITING COMMUNITY IN THE AREA’

But what's being proposed is more than just a surf park, said Petricevic. The project will also create an entirely new community in South Britannia, about 14 kilometres south of Squamish.

Though residential properties won’t come until after the surf park is up and running, plans call for a multi-phase build-out over more than two decades that would eventually see 1,050 units of housing created as part of the development. The Tiger Bay project also includes plans for tourist accommodations, commercial space, childcare, a pump track and skate park, as well as areas for a school and/or community centre and a transit hub.

Additionally, the rezoning application sets the stage for a 5.2-hectare parcel of oceanfront land at Minaty Bay, currently part of Tiger Bay’s land holdings, to be transferred to public ownership and used as a park.

Key changes to Tiger Bay’s application since the SLRD board last heard about the project in June include an increase from 50 units of affordable housing to 150 (in addition to 900 units of market housing), a commitment to meeting Step 4 energy- efficiency building requirements rather than Step 3, and formalizing Tiger Bay’s agreement that natural gas will not be used as an energy source as a condition of development.

The SLRD's motion for first reading carried after a more than one-hour discussion at its Dec. 15 board meeting, during which directors raised questions about everything from the proposed neighbourhood’s walkability and the amount of childcare space required, to the size and quantity of affordable housing units.

Details of what the 150 affordable housing units would look like and how they would be delivered will be addressed in a housing agreement prior to Phase 2 of the project—the first phase of residential development—explained planning consultant Eric Vance in a presentation to the board.

“The reason we’re holding off on doing [the housing agreement] is because needs are going to change over time,” he told the board. “By the time [Tiger Bay] gets to the residential phase at South Britannia—it’s going to be a number of years out—programs will change, funding sources, needs and so on. To come out with a detailed housing agreement at this point is just too speculative.”

A hazard assessment has already been completed for part of the property, with two more detailed debris flow hazard assessments and a development agreement still needed before the application can proceed to second reading. Preliminary work suggests there is no cause for concern in terms of natural hazards, officials say. Following second reading, the proposal would head to a public hearing.

Petricevic said he expects the remaining hazard assessments to be completed in the next four months.

“Looking at those time frames, if we could get to second reading by June, that would be fantastic, and to get to the ... public hearing by August would be amazing,” he added.

PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT ‘CAN BE BETTER THAN IT IS’

While SLRD director Karen Elliott, mayor of Squamish, seemed pleased with aspects of the project, overall, it “lacks aspiration as a community of the future,” she said.

Elliott credited developers for agreeing to tie the project to a more energy-efficient building code, but said she expected to see builders discussing the possibility of achieving net-zero given the project’s lengthy time frame.

“To me it feels like this development community is still building for today instead of for the future we’re living in where we need to be more resilient, less carbon-intensive and more focused on community,” she said during the meeting.

“It certainly meets a bar that will get it through first reading, but some of those important details, I think, need to come back as we move through this process. I’m still not convinced that we’ve built a whole community here, with enough employment or services to support the over 1,000 units [of housing] that will be built.”

Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton, who questioned the amount of public versus private recreation opportunities the project will offer, agreed. “Overall, I think this moves in a positive direction,” he said, “but I think it can be better than it is.”

Hit play for a look at a similar Wavegarden-powered facility in Sion, Switzerland: