Oceanfront planning not resonating with public 

Squamish council and staff at a loss

It’s a public process without much public interest, a bit of a downer given the billing.

Earlier this week, the Create the Oceanfront planning process made its first appearance in council chambers since November’s election, and Mayor Greg Gardner said the public participation numbers were miserly.

“These numbers, to be frank, disappoint me a bit,” he said, “especially the website, with only 300 in a community of (16,000). I guess my comment is we need to start upping interaction with people in the community.”

The process, ushered in with much celebration last summer, was supposed to be the final in a long and fitful effort to develop the Oceanfront Peninsula, which includes Nexen Beach. Unlike previous incarnations, this new endeavour is spearheaded by the district, with staff, Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation, Westmana and B.C. Rail all playing second fiddle to public consultation.

So far, public events and stakeholder consultations haven’t generated much interest. Last summer’s launch saw some 300 participants, while four focus group meetings brought another 40 people to the table. A subsequent open house, held in the fall, brought out another 70 people. The website, meanwhile, has generated 300 unique visitors.

“It doesn’t seem to be resonating well in the community for this particular project,” said Director of Planning Cameron Chalmers, “and we’re not sure why.”

Staff and council said they were aware of a private citizen’s effort to soon convene a meeting on the Oceanfront, though the feeling is that that attempt is born of frustration rather than enthusiasm.

Chalmers, who has been with the district for six years, said staff is trying to retool its approach after a media blitz and advertising campaign failed to stoke engagement. In addition to a print media campaign, the district also courted radio and television, while also stuffing mailboxes.

“We did the biggest blitz for any project since I’ve been here leading up to the first open house,” he said, “and I don’t know what’s wrong. We need to figure out why people aren’t coming.

“There’s nobody more disappointed in the turn-out of the last (open house) than I am. We spent tonnes of time and money.”

Councillor Patricia Heintzman said the spectre of previous processes is haunting the new plan, with residents bankrupt when it comes to faith in fruition.

Gardner said the lack of community interest puts council in a tough spot. In the absence of increased input, council can either go with the vision of the few, or postpone the process still longer, said Gardner. However, parts of the process are already behind schedule: By the end of last year, staff was supposed to have a policy statement prepared.

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