Squamish council stalls developer 

Request to remove development restriction cap rejected

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A key landowner in Squamish is going to have to continue sitting on the sidelines.

Developer Kal Cheema, the owner of District Lots 509 and 510, hoped District of Squamish council members might remove a restriction on his land that prevents him from making an application to begin planning development of more than 200 hectares (500 acres) of land his company purchased in 2006.

Cheema hasn't been able to develop the lands because Squamish's Official Community Plan restricts development planning for the property until the population hits 22,500. The most recent census data indicates Squamish has a population of 17,500. Members of council were asked to consider passing an OCP amendment to remove the growth cap on Cheema's lands.

In a 4-3 vote, Squamish council decided to keep the growth cap in place.

Mayor Rob Kirkham and Councillors Ron Sander and Doug Race wanted to remove the cap.

"This is a huge investment we have," Cheema said of the property adjacent to the Garibaldi Highlands area.

The large property is the only piece of land in Squamish with a development cap based on population growth.

A number of popular hiking and biking trails crisscross the lands. Jack's Trail goes through the centre of the property. It was originally built in the 1970s linking the Garibaldi Highlands to Alice Lake. The Test of Metal mountain bike race uses Jack's Trail as part of its popular course.

"Squamish is a really big sports event community and we want to support that," said Cheema.

Race argued the OCP adjustment was meant to level the playing field for Cheema and treat him like any other owner of undeveloped land.

"We talk about being open for business," said Race. "This is part of walking the walk."

He said the restriction is unfair to Cheema.

Councillor Patricia Heintzman disagreed. She said there are many landowners who feel the OCP unfairly restricts their land uses while Councillor Bryan Raiser argued Squamish doesn't have the resources to deal with a development application from Cheema if he came forward with an application.

"We don't have the staff, we don't have the money to do this," Raiser said.

According to Councillor Ted Prior, striking down the growth cap is unfair to residents who expect the lands to remain undeveloped for the time being.

"When the owner bought this land it had the cap on it," said Prior.

Jeffrey Norman, an avid mountain bike rider who lives near the Cheema lands, believes it's unfair to recent home buyers in the area who purchased their homes knowing the lands wouldn't be developed any time soon.

"When I was researching where to buy a house last year I was aware of the bylaw that was in place and made my decision to buy based on the fact that there would be no houses on the adjoining district lot for a number of years," Norman said.

Squamish resident Auli Parviainen was happy with the council decision.

"It goes against every reasonable planning principle, has absolutely no place for even consideration at this moment," said Parviainen.

She said Squamish needs to promote infill development before allowing Cheema to begin developing his land.


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