A Planner Comes to a Transforming Town

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Jonas Velaniskis, the new director of planning at the District of Squamish.

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Sept 9, 2015

IT’S BEEN a slow and rambling journey to Squamish for Jonas Velaniskis, the new director of planning at the District of Squamish.
For the last one month, Velaniskis has been moving his boat from Port McNeil to Squamish, mooring it along different Island anchorages, using one weekend after the other to bring it down to the Blue Heron marina in Squamish.
It’s been a unique journey for Velaniskis. Born and raised in a small town of Dovainonys in Southern Lithuania, he moved to Canada with his family after his high school graduation. The family settled in the Toronto suburb of Burlington but Velaniskis was hooked on BC when he moved with his girlfriend here for a six-month stint at a fishing lodge in Ucluelet. It was here that BC and what it had to offer — mountains, ocean and recreation — grew on the couple and they decided to make it a permanent home. After graduating from University of Guelph in rural planning and development, he worked at the Comox Valley Regional District and later as a planner at the Regional District of Mount Waddington. The couple bought a home in Bowser, a small community near Nanaimo, where his wife, Heather Ann, taught at a local school. They have two children, a three-and-a-half-year-old girl called McKenzie and a one-year-old son named Vilkas. Settling down in Squamish was always on their radar. When Jonas saw the job opportunity, he applied right away and hoped to land the job.
Both of them lived in Squamish in 2010 when Ann secured a job at a North Vancouver school while Velaniskis stayed at home working as a consultant for federal government.
“We always had an eye on Squamish and wanted to move back to town because of its easy access to recreation and proximity to Vancouver and Whistler,” he said.
Squamish seems to be undergoing a rapid transformation and Velaniskis, as director of planning, has a unique new role in shaping the town.
“I’ve never worked in a community that is under such tremendous development pressures. There is a lot of potential in SODC and Waterfront, and I have no doubt that they will be built and the community will be the driver of this sustainable growth,” he said.
Velaniskis’s new position ties directly to his education at Guelph, where he specialized in rural planning. With competing priorities of industrial, residential and agricultural land use, planning in rural communities offers unique challenges to planners.
“The scope of planning is large when there is a mix of rural and urban, and I think Squamish is at that interesting boundary of rural and urban. Squamish is being noticed and there is a development pressure here and I mean that in a positive way,” he said.
Velaniskis hopes to contribute to sustainable community development in the coming few years. He moved to town in May and his family will follow him next week to Valleycliffe, where they recently purchased a townhome. Ann is looking for a job and they look forward to enjoy the abundant nature and outdoor recreation activities available in Squamish.
“Squamish has it all — mountains, the ocean and a great access to skiing and hiking. It’s on the map and I think it’s a great time to live here,” he said.