August 29, 2008 Features & Images » Feature Story

The housing onion 

Peeling back the layers of Squamish’s residential real estate boom

click to enlarge District of Squamish planning director Cameron Chalmers. Photo by Dave Buzzard
  • District of Squamish planning director Cameron Chalmers. Photo by Dave Buzzard

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Of course, the momentum doesn’t stop with the Daniels. A strata development proposed across the street, for example, threatens their view of the Chief.

“You can’t be a dog in a manger,” says Jill. “We got our piece of paradise, and who would I be to say that’s enough, now that we’re here, no one else can be?”

Neither she nor David is enthusiastic about the development across the street. They have similar feelings about other proposals around town. But they trust in town council to manage growth to the benefit of residents.

And that’s no easy task. According to numbers crunched by transportation consultants commissioned by the town, the current population is 16,106, with an additional 17,000 people anticipated by 2031. During the same timeframe, an additional 8,800 homes are expected to join the stock. Further, 3,365 additional jobs are projected, also by 2031.

Based on existing trends, those figures beget a slew of questions and concerns about the composition of Squamish. Who are the new inhabitants? Where will they come from? Where will they work? Who will develop their homesteads, and how will that development be planned? Will the boom be a benefit? Or will it become a bane?

The man managing many of these concerns is Cameron Chalmers, the intelligent and articulate director of planning with the District of Squamish. With four people working under him, he helms a ship bobbing in a busy sea. They’re the ones interfacing with developers, negotiating amenity packages, writing policy and steering land use strategy.

To Chalmers’s mind, the boom has so far been a benefit to the community. “In the last two years, there’s been a much greater effort on trying to secure additional amenities. We’ve been quite successful. When we have external firms do an analysis of our amenities packages, they’ve come out favourable.”

A good example, he says, is mirEau. Given third reading in June, it’s a 52-unit project undertaken by Westmana. It’s been described as a forerunner for the new downtown and the new waterfront, and it came complete with a celebrated gift to the Howe Sound Women’s Centre and the Sea to Sky Community Services office. Given that the project is proposed for lots once occupied by those two organizations, Westmana donated $20,000 to Community Services and $180,000 to the Women’s Centre, money pledged for relocation and renovation.

Aside from the growth in its tax base, the district also benefits from the collection of development cost charges, which it can levy under the auspices of the Local Government Act. In 2000, that fund, which also draws on commercial and industrial developments, was just $2.8 million. It’s since grown to $10.2 million. Those dollars are typically spent on infrastructure projects, less than exciting undertakings related to sewer, water and roads. At the same time, some of that money does find its way into parks and trails. In 2005, for example, $2 million was spent on parks development and $1 million on trails.

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