Controversy on the Oceanfront 

Heavy industry feared by Squamish council candidate

With the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation (SODC) rapidly running out of money, fear and rumour is surfacing throughout the community as to the future of the Oceanfront and the legitimacy of the district’s Create the Oceanfront planning process.

An arms-length body of the district, SODC is comprised of several board members, all of whom oversee the day-to-day operations of the peninsula. Daily costs of running those lands are about $2,000, and it’s likely SODC will be approaching council for renewed funding come the new year. Councillor Patricia Heintzman expects the board to present a number of options, one of which could be the sale of certain land parcels.

“Technically,” said Heintzman, “the city can go out and borrow money to get them through this crisis. So, technically, we could continue as we are now.”

At issue is language, specifically the semantics of terms like marine industry, light industry and heavy industry. Council candidate Alan Forsythe is cautioning the electorate from voting in candidates he views as favourable to heavy industry. Forsythe, a writer with Squamish Online , points to a recent all-candidates debate, in which his publisher asked candidates where they stood on the issue of establishing heavy industry on SODC lands.

“In the all-candidates meeting, when asked what they’d like to see on the Oceanfront, there were four candidates that were very consistent and almost identical in their response in saying they support marine industry. So, what does that mean? They haven’t been very clear; they haven’t been very forthcoming on offering specifics; and Doug Race particularly did not say no to heavy industry.”

Race, who sits on the SODC board, told Pique that the line between heavy and light industry is vague. An avid sailor, he said he sees promise for industries that hinge on boat culture, things like repair shops, boat builders and other such services.

“The most likely things to go down there are not anything like what was down there,” said Race, referring to the peninsula’s distinctively heavy industrial past. “We’re not talking about anything like that. What we’re talking about trying to do — and it’s not definite, and there’s no shift in policy at the SODC board — what we’re trying to do is get marine-based activity going.”

Race added that his vision for the Oceanfront is something like Granville Island, as opposed to Nanaimo. “Whatever goes down there has to fit. It has to fit with the ambience.

“And I don’t want to rule out a specific business. If something came along and happened to be zoned industrial and not commercial, but happened to be a good fit, it would be considered.”

Forsythe fears a deep-sea port. He said years of planning — from the long ago charette to the current process — have called for very different uses, such as civic and green space, mixed use residential, commercial enterprise.

“It seems to me it should be easy for most of the candidates to get behind that,” he said. “It’s clear the direction that most Squamish residents want to go. So I wonder the hesitation on Doug’s part in saying no to heavy industry, and, furthermore, I wonder what marine industry means to those people who are advocating for marine industry.”

At least once this summer, SODC chair Tom Bruusgaard was quoted in local media dismissing heavy industry, specifically steal fabrication. In a recent interview with Pique , he presented a slightly different position.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “The official version is that we are willing to look at anything, but the people in Squamish have made it clear. They do not want to see heavy industry. But you never know. Things may change. If you follow the public workshops lately, job creation or employment lands is considered very important, and I don’t know if — the initial feeling that was expressed in the charette — whether it will hold or not. It certainly is a different time.”

Anti-industry types might find solace across the Strait of Georgia. In Victoria, Dockside Green is an oceanfront development enjoying high esteem. According to Heintzman, the city called for proposals from developers, but reserved the right to appoint a partner. When lands were sold, they were relinquished under the auspices of a memorandum of understanding that set out conditions and requirements. The same thing, she said, could be done in Squamish.

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