After years of public pitches and planning hitches, the Red Point saga came to a dramatic close this week, with Vancouver-based developer Kingswood denied third reading after an epic public hearing on its rezoning application.
The development called for over 200 residential units on the Upper Mamquam Blind Channel, an undeveloped stretch of land off Highway 99 at the southern mouth of Squamish. Left idle for over 30 years, the area is zoned tourist commercial, a distinction the proponent sought to overturn in favour of comprehensive development zoning, which would allow for the multi-family development Kingswood envisioned.
In the end, Squamish council was divided four to three against third reading, which Kingswood had unsuccessfully pursued last year.
The hearing began with a presentation by project manager Ron Bijok, who attempted to sway public opinion with a new traffic management plan. The original strategy contributed to the collapse of the previous rezoning effort.
“We’ve come up with a plan that meets Squamish’s needs and is effective,” he said. “We do have ministry approval on a preliminary basis.”
Access to the site would’ve been complicated by the Highway 99 overhaul, which will have Kiewet erect a cement divider between north and south lanes. Rather than have a right in/right out arrangement, Kingswood proposed a set of roundabouts, one of which would’ve streamed traffic through the Adventure Centre parking lot. Complementing the roundabouts would be pedestrian access arteries.
“At the end of the day,” said Bijok, “we believe we’ve come back with a generous slate of amenities, as well as a fully revised traffic plan.”
But the plan didn’t sell. A parade of speakers took to the podium, most of them blasting the location, rather than the project itself.
“If it was across the street, it would’ve probably been built by now,” said Kevin McLane of the Upper Mamquam Blind Channel Community Group.
McLane, a rock-climbing guide and guidebook writer, was one of many concerned about the project’s proximity to Smoke Bluffs Park, a locale cherished by the climbing community.
Another chief concern among those opposed was the separation of Red Point from the rest of the other Upper Channel developments. After the previous rezoning was nixed, council moved to develop the area holistically, complete with a planning process that would involve all stakeholders. The process launched and crashed on May 10, after a meeting produced little more than loggerheads. At a subsequent council meeting, a motion was passed to give Red Point singular treatment. This, said Councillor Greg Gardner at the time, was done at the behest of the developer.
“I’m suggesting that we can’t look at this rezoning in isolation,” said Catherine Jackson, president of the Squamish Environmental Society.
According to Jim Sanford, a resident who owns nearby property, the developer is trying to capitalize on the real estate boom before interest rates begin rising again. But, he said, there’s a healthy supply of condos coming into the downtown core, and Red Point was a symbol of capitalist overkill.
And yet, not all were opposed to the development. While the list of speakers was top-heavy with people opposed, supporting voices began to emerge as the hours ticked by. Kingswood had a strong supporter in Squamish Nation, with Councillor Dale Harry present with a strongly worded letter from Chief Gibby Jacob.
“The development is located close to our reserve and other landholdings owned by our nation,” Harry read. “We see ourselves growing economically. As the original residents of Squamish, we feel qualified to comment on the nature of the project.”
Noting that the nation pursued a successful development relationship with Kingswood in West Vancouver, Jacob’s letter went on to say the nation would be “discouraged” if the rezoning were to fall through.
Other supporters were found in early buyers, all of them praising the design and location of the building, as well as the reputation of the proponent. To boot, the project’s architect, a relatively new resident to Squamish, praised the development as the type of place suited to the outdoor rec set the town has been attracting in recent years. Around the same time, a North Yards developer praised the project’s planning process.
“To say there’s been little thought put into this process is frankly offensive, ignorant and self-serving,” he said.
When it came time for council to debate the rezoning, Councillors Patricia Heintzman, Corinne Lonsdale, Greg Gardner and Mike Jenson echoed many of the concerns put forward by the opposition camp. All four wound up voting against the rezoning, leaving Councillors Jeff McKenzie and Raj Kahlon to side with Mayor Ian Sutherland.
“Giving third reading or not giving third reading tonight,” said Sutherland, “the problems aren’t going away.”
Bijok, who spent bouts of the hearing stressfully rubbing his eyes, left with little comment. “We will look at our options,” he said.