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

Page 5 of 8

The planning department is absolutely hammered with residential applications. The press is a result of the boom rattling much of the Lower Mainland, and, even though the market is slowing down, there’s still a raft of ongoing projects.

Another crucial change in the Squamish environment, notes Gardner, is the closing of Woodfibre and the loss of B.C. Rail. Heavy industry, he says, can make condo development less appealing. As a result of these and other factors, it’s become much easier for developers to turn a buck producing residential, while commercial is a bit less enticing.

Gardner sees these things balancing out in the long term. Just the same, he figures the district’s role is to keep them balanced in the short term — and the planning department is the apparatus to manage that balance. Meanwhile, part of what skews the equilibrium are the very amenity packages the planning department successfully negotiates.

“There is a concern here from my personal point of view,” says Gardner. “If the developer is offering a significant community amenity, then I think the public — and council is a reflection of the public — is excited about receiving that benefit for the community. And I think because of that we sometimes might lose sight of what the real issue is.”

That issue is sustainability. The concept is enshrined in a number of planning department documents, especially the new Downtown Neighbourhood Plan (DNP), which revolves around the live, work and play principles of sustainable development.

Take mirEau. While it is a mixed commercial and residential building, the commercial component is far from grand, something noted during third reading by Greg Fischer of the downtown business improvement area.

For his part, Chalmers isn’t worried about tipping the town into bedroom status. He notes a slew of commercial projects in various stages of development, whether up and running or taking root.

According to his records, total approved commercial square footage was 500 in 2005, while industry was 14,885. In 2006, approved commercial square footage blossomed to 65,028; the following year, it shot up another 43,362. Industrial square footage, meanwhile, grew first by 15,389 and then by 65,978. Currently, there’s hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space before the planning department.

“When we did the Official Community Plan review,” recalls Chalmers, “we knew that people would probably come first, and that’s the number one thing that will drive commercial. It’s very difficult to attract viable commercial enterprise without a strong population.”

Tom Lancaster worked with the planning department on the DNP. He’s the manager of advisory services for Smart Growth B.C., an organization born from academic circles to propel sustainable development. To Lancaster, the numbers that so jarred Gardner aren’t necessarily the four horsemen of the traffic jam apocalypse.

Readers also liked…

  • Death in the Alpine

    Social media is changing our relationship to risk, with deadly consequences
    • Jun 10, 2018
  • Getting Lost On A Bike

    Mountain biking? Nay. Touring? Not quite. Hiking? Heck no! Welcome to the world of bikepacking
    • Aug 12, 2018

Latest in Feature Story

More by Paul Carlucci

© 1994-2020 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation