Paradise Trails moves forward 

But another third reading likely in future

On the heels of a rocky first and second reading, the equestrian community proposed for Paradise Valley survived a public hearing with much the same support and criticism that’s defined it from the outset.

Over the course of three hours Tuesday, horse-lovers squared off against environmentalists, while District of Squamish staff and two lone councillors railed against a project they framed as irresponsible, unsustainable and at odds with the town’s policy direction.

“I’ve never seen a project come to first and second reading with so many questions,” said Greg Gardner, one of two councillors opposed. “The rest of the community will be subsidizing this community well into the future.”

Paradise Trails is an 82 strata lot equestrian community proposed for upper Squamish Valley. Anchoring it is a public equestrian centre, a network of riding trails and series of publicly available clinics and programs.

Supporters say the project is the last hope for horse-lovers who have lost ranchlands to commercial and urban development. Detractors say the community promises urban sprawl in a rural area fraught with flood and fire hazards.

The whole saga is likely to repeat itself after the November elections, as the amenity package is still under negotiation, a situation that will likely bring new information to council and therefore trigger another public hearing.

“It’s got a net positive for the people of Squamish,” said Councillor Jeff McKenzie.

His was the predominant view at the hearing. Surrounding neighbours favoured the proposal, as did the vast majority of speakers.

“We need coaches,” said Toni Kerekes. “We need lesson horses. We need stables. There are some private stables, but it’s like borrowing your neighbour’s every day versus going to Brennan Park.”

For others, the issue is not horses, but urban sprawl. Catherine Jackson of the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society said the proposed lot sizes, ranging from 0.5 to two acres, threaten local taxpayers with increases further down the road. Echoing staff, she said the proposal runs counter to the Official Community Plan, Smart Growth and other district documents.

“Where are those people 20 years from now going to ride their horses? It’ll be through suburbia.”

In the end, council voted four to two in favour of rezoning the lands. However, they attached a prior-to-adoption amendment that would ensure the equestrian centre is public and that it must in fact be built.

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