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Squamish calls in big gun planner

Council looks to Vancouver’s former top planner, Larry Beasley, for development advice



By Vivian Moreau

The District of Squamish hopes to bring in one of Vancouver’s most respected planners to help the community sort out what to do with the 103-acre former Nexen Chemical plant site.

Squamish’s mayor said council decided at a Nov. 8 council meeting to bring all the players in the controversial project together in December or January to meet with planning consultants to decide on how best to proceed in developing the property that has been vacant for 10 years.

Last month developer Qualex-Landmark backed out of the partnership formed with the district to develop the property into a multi-purpose residential, commercial and light industrial community. Qualex-Landmark made the decision after council had voted 4-3 in favour of a last-minute amendment to a memorandum of understanding that asked for more than one-third of the project to be dedicated to public use and light industry.

Mayor Ian Sutherland says the district intends to invite Larry Beasley, Vancouver’s former director of planning, and other retired developers to a meeting with the board of directors of the Oceanfront Development Corporation, the corporation Squamish established to look after the waterfront development.

Beasley was Vancouver’s planning head through for 30 years but retired earlier this year and now works as a consultant. Beasley said he’s turned down many commission offers, particularly in the Vancouver area, because he believes it’s unethical to take on work in the Lower Mainland given his insider knowledge of Vancouver’s workings. But Squamish has him intrigued, he said, because it will demand a different kind of approach.

“Squamish has its own DNA, its own way to unfold that makes sense for it,” Beasley said. But good planning will help the resource-based town move forward to a model city.

“On the one hand it has this magnificent natural setting in an interesting location and has been doing decently well to unfold itself, but it could get terrible fast,” Beasley said. “When it gets bad it doesn’t happen by accident and when it gets good it doesn’t happen by accident — it takes a very deliberate process.”

Squamish should not be seen as just a potential Vancouver bedroom community, he said, but needs to develop its own vision through consultation with the community members, both new and old.

It’s important that Squamish have its own work opportunities, its culture and not just become a suburb of Vancouver, that would not be good urbanism, he said.

Squamish’s mayor said it’s imperative the town find a process for dealing with the change it faces as it grows into a business and recreation-focused community.

“We’re not going to get anybody doing projects in Squamish if they’re worried that council is going to be bouncing all over the place,” Sutherland said. “One reason we’re doing this session is to try and get people at a comfort level that in effect we do have a vision and plan of going forward.”

Oceanfront’s chief executive officer says a public process is imperative before another developer can be brought on board with the project.

“In other words, somebody can’t just come out of the woodwork and say ‘I’m interested and I’ll pay so much for the land.’ They have to go through a competitive public process with serious due diligence,” said Mike Chin.

As to whether Oceanfront will remain part of the process is up to council, Chin said.

“They have to come to terms with whether or not Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation is around, if they want a municipal corporation or not and how to implement the development.”