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Squamish residents weigh in at GAS open house

GAS developers ask for a chance to work with community



If the local community does not want a new four-season resort on Brohm Ridge, then the developers of Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) will walk away from the half-a-billion-dollar project.

That was the message at the open house in Squamish on Thursday, Sept. 17 that drew more than 100 people out to learn about the proposed resort in the heart of the Sea to Sky corridor.

"Please give us the opportunity to work with you," said David Negrin, the president of development for GAS to the audience. "We'd like that.

"I believe that I can sell you something that you'll be proud of."

While the project, which includes a large housing/tourist accommodation component, could have wide-ranging implications for the corridor as a whole, specifically Whistler, the focus at the open house was all about Squamish and how this resort could impact the fast-growing town.

One concerned business owner questioned the impact on highway traffic.

"You show me a three-to-five-lane highway coming through here in both directions, then show me a resort," said the resident who has lived in Squamish for nine years. "We're already stressed to the max with the fatalities and accidents and everything else on that highway already. This is just going to add to that and I see that as an issue."

He also pointed to the iconic Brohm Ridge view dominating the Squamish skyline.

"That is one of the most beautiful sights when I drive into Squamish... How much of that is going to be scarred by the development you're proposing? How much is it going to change that view? That right there, that picture, is one of the key points that makes Squamish, in my opinion, the recreation capital of Canada.

"I think you guys have a great idea. I just don't think it's the right location. Perhaps there's another location you can look at."

Garibaldi at Squamish is on the northern edge of Squamish, currently outside the district's boundaries and located in the regional district. It's designed to offer things like biking, ziplines, alpine coasters, and more. There will be three distinct villages, linked by a European-style electric railcar to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

The developers say GAS will be different from Whistler, not just because it will be more affordable but it will be smaller too. The project as it stands includes the development of 22,000 bed units. The Resort Municipality of Whistler, by comparison, is capped at 54,000 bed units.

"It's a much smaller scale," said Negrin. "It's an on-mountain (resort), it's not a valley one, so it's a lot more (about) living on the mountain. We're living on the slopes."

Former Squamish Mayor Corinne Lonsdale spoke publically of her support for the project that has been decades in the making.

She was on council 25 years ago when the original proponent, Wolfgang Richter, presented "that project on the hill."

In the last decade GAS has switched hands, now backed by the Aquilini and Gaglardi families of Vancouver. In that time the developers have removed the proposed golf course around Cat Lake.

"Today the project has been scaled back," said Lonsdale. "I believe it is once again supportable."

Lonsdale said she is concerned about Squamish's future.

"This community never aspired to be West Vancouver North but that's where we're headed today.

"Affordability, that was one of our strengths a decade ago, is becoming an issue."

GAS will create long-term jobs that will enable Squamish citizens to work closer to home, she added. It will also add more property taxes to the district's coffers and give Squamish the chance to get into visitors' pocketbooks.

There are other considerations too beyond the financial windfall for the town. Things like the impact to wildlife and the impact to water are among key issues worrying residents.

Members of the Squamish Nation also attended the open house.

"What you guys want to do is put a playground on where I used to play on Brohm Ridge," said Richard Billy. "I'm here to protect our trapline, our traditional territory, my ancestors' territory.

"It was my playground and I want to protect it for my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren."

Negrin said there is more work to be done and he asked the community to give GAS the chance to do that work.

"We want to work with the public," he said after the nearly four-hour meeting. "We want to work with council. We want to work with the government, see the impacts of these 22,000 bed units. And if it tells us that, 'You know what, it's 15,000 bed units or it's 11,000 bed units,' then we'll have to address that."

Whistler Blackcomb's CEO and president Dave Brownlie also attended the open house.

"Certainly lots of beautiful idyllic pictures of the Swiss Alps but that really doesn't translate into 22,000 bed units on the side of a mountain," he said, referring to the size and scale of the project. "I'm not quite sure how those reconcile."

He also raised the question of the latest report on the visitor projections that cuts the GAS's visitor assumptions in half and even those would not be incremental visitors.

"In my opinion, from what I can see, (it's) a very challenging, flawed concept that really doesn't work and it's not additive to the corridor."

As for walking away if the community isn't on board, Brownlie added:

"Hasn't the community already said that?" he said, pointing to the opposition of the regional district, of the resort municipality and of the concerns raised by Squamish council.

"As long as the (provincial) government keeps ticking the boxes, I think they're going to continue promoting the resort regardless."

The provincial Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) expects to refer the project to ministers for a decision in late October or early November, but that timing is dependent on the EAO receiving some outstanding documents from the proponent. The EAO will complete an assessment report with its findings and provide it to the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, along with a recommendation from the associate deputy minister of the EAO.

The ministers can approve, reject or order further assessment. They have 45 days to make their decision after the EAO's referral.