Why Squamish Cannot Simply Halt Development

For some who wonder why Squamish cannot simply halt development to prevent the population from growing, such an approach would be extremely challenging, if not impossible, and associated with a variety of negative consequences.

Zoning is already in place

First, many projects across Squamish, including a majority of the downtown projects, reflect landowners who are developing properties under existing zoning. In these situations landowners are often selling land with existing development rights to companies that have the financial resources and expertise to redevelop these properties at their permitted density. There are no approvals required in these cases for development to proceed.

Rezoning offers opportunities for amenity contributions

Other developments reflect rezoning applications where developers apply to Council for new, higher density development rights. Strategic planning on the part of the District in these cases is important.

Given the close proximity, Squamish land and housing prices are heavily influenced by demand in the Lower Mainland, which has driven prices up, increasingly putting the cost of housing out of reach for many residents. While it is unlikely that enough additional housing supply could be provided to drive prices down, the District can support the creation of more attainable housing products through the types of dwellings that can be developed.

Multi-family housing such as apartments, townhouses and plexes are more affordable than single family homes by nature of shared land, shared infrastructure and smaller sizes. In addition, the approval process for new multi-family developments often provides Council with the opportunity to secure amenities such as affordable housing units or rental housing units. These strategies are critical to ensure our community can fill gaps across the entire housing spectrum.

Finally, multi-family housing stock becomes a more affordable housing option as the buildings age. Continued addition to, or replacement of, multi-family housing over time is an important component of providing a range of market housing options.

Improved transit service and neighbourhood nodes

Furthermore, supporting increased gentle density and mixed-use developments along the core transit network and in neighbourhood nodes is an important strategy to help establish a more walkable community with increased transit frequency. These changes can provide more day-to-day services and employment in existing neighbourhoods, and less reliance on single occupant vehicles. Increasing the supply of employment spaces is an important land use objective that must be addressed alongside residential development; additional retail and commercial space in higher density mixed use development offers opportunities for local employment close to home. Collectively these changes can support the environmental goals identified in the District’s Community Climate Action Plan.

Restricting housing supply has negative consequences

In contrast, a halt to housing development in Squamish would limit the creation of multi-family housing products across the community and exacerbate the challenges of affordability. Restrictions on housing supply can be associated with: volatility in housing prices; impacts on local businesses as they struggle to find employees; and overcrowding in existing residences as people struggle to find attainable housing. In addition, significant price increases associated with restricted housing supply are associated with changes in an area’s demographic mix. For example, as the cost of single-family neighbourhood homes climb, these areas attract fewer young families and consequently lose diversity and vibrancy.

Given the benefits of new housing development for the community, and the potential drawbacks of restricting new housing supply, it is important to make strategic choices that facilitate an appropriate style of growth for our community.