If construction defines your community, then the planning department is the thumping heart of its governance structure. Given that 2007 saw the District of Squamish (DOS) dole out 170 new business licenses and 181 building permits, with many more coming as 2008 wends its way through the calendar cycle, a robust planning department is something of a prerequisite for managed growth and success in sustainability.
The planning team in Squamish suffered something of a blow with the recent departure of Heather Evans, the lead on the new downtown neighbourhood plan (DNP). Her job was open for several weeks, but has recently been filled by Jim Charlebois.
His planning ideas are informed by his education and work experience, which has seen him as far east as Halifax and as far west as here. He grew up in Thunder Bay, where an interest in geography sparked a passion for planning and a curiosity about growth. That took him to Ryerson University in Toronto, where the program director also had roots in Thunder Bay.
Fast forward to now, and Charlebois’s office is still a sparsely decorated affair. While he’s been on staff for about three weeks, the lanky, neatly dressed Ontario native lives in Vancouver, where he is bound by lease and occupied by commute, which, thanks to the mountains, he doesn’t mind so much.
He’ll be picking up primarily where Evans left off, which is with the DNP, although he’s meeting with the department director sometime today to beef up his agenda.
“There’s quite a lot of development applications, I’ll be picking those up,” he says, “but he’ll be having me pick up some policy work, as well.”
Charlebois has beat the policy drum before, most recently in Maple Ridge, where the Smart Growth principles Squamish has adopted were first practised. Those principles, which are B.C. born, include mixed-use development with compact construction, transportation alternatives and a reverence of for open spaces, among others. These tenets, says Charlebois, will be well served by the downtown plan, especially given the fact that they’re reinforced by community input.
“Squamish is a little further ahead, but kind of in the same place,” he says. “If people are interested in their communities, you get to give them a chance to take part. Smart Growth does that well.”
One of Squamish’s defining physical characteristics, asides from obvious landmarks like the Chief or Diamond Head, is the multi-nodal layout of the town. From Valleycliffe to Brackendale, Squamish has a number of distinct communities. Charlebois applauds the neighrbourhood-level identity, something he says is less common in North America, where mall culture snuffs out that sort of distinction, at the same time squeezing day-long street life out of downtown cores.
“There are some cities that identify on a neighbourhood level,” he says. “For a big city like Toronto to be identified on a neighbourhood level is great. Squamish is a lot like that, too. Sure, Vancouver has neighbourhoods, but people don’t identify with them as much.
“We think of Whistler as a resort, and it is. But Squamish is less of a resort and more of a community. You can still live here. And it’s that variety of neighbourhoods.”
He sees a big difference between Whistler and Squamish, something he figures people want to preserve. “Sometimes knowing what you don’t want to be can help you figure out what you want to be.”