By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: June 8, 2012
The previous council can claim many a winning idea: Hiring Kevin Ramsay, Squamish Service Initiative, Oceanfront Sub-area plan.
And in these instances, they would be right.
But where they decidedly flunked the voter confidence test was on the most crucial issue facing Squamish.
Former councilor Paul Lalli’s appointment as the chair of the economic development committee was an ill-advised move.
And the Outline for Economic Development plan seemed to have come out of political compulsion and public pressure, the product of frustration, not deliberation.
The plan is like a hurriedly-cooked stew by an inexperienced chef who ignored for years the hungry crowds milling outside.
Too bad Dan McRae is stuck with serving the same old chicken soup.
But the morning of June 5th, new aprons and toques were being fitted on to new chefs.
A fresh scent wafted in the air, as the first meeting of the economic development committee took place at early morning.
Coun. Patricia Heintzman is the chair, and Coun. Susan Chapelle and Coun. Ted Prior are the members of this committee.
There were 15 other community members who attended: Kerry Brown, Donna Wall, Tom Bruusgaard, Peter Legere, Scott McQuade, Elliott Moses, John Jervis, Eric Andersen, Chris Pettingil, and Auli Parviainen were among those present in the meeting.
The conversation veered sometimes towards often-heard platitudes, but a bold idea stood out.
Creating tax exemption zones in places like downtown Squamish as an incentive for revitalization.
The idea was borrowed by Dan McRae from Maple Ridge, a municipality that provides for a range of incentives that they hope to replicate in Squamish.
These include giving building permits at half the price, giving tax breaks on improvements or renovations, and giving cash up front.
The idea met with support from those present, although some raised concern about the location and the nature of these incentives.
Former mayoral candidate and local business woman Auli Parviainen questioned how the tax break would be effective if the Development Cost Charges (DCCs) remain high.
Eric Andersen said the tax breaks should also be considered for areas like BCR properties, where DCCs and land could be used a leverage to attract industry.
Kerry Brown was of the view that downtown revitalization shouldn’t happen at the cost of the other areas in town.
Later, in an interview with the Reporter, Heintzman said downtown revitalization zone could incorporate a variety of incentives including possible tax exemption for commercial and residential infill development, and aesthetic and green renovation, and reduced DCCs.
The committee suggested implementing some of these ideas by 2013. To this end, the council has suggested a committee of the whole workshop to explore the possibilities and move the project forward.
Heintzman said she was really hopeful that Squamish can generate some excitement and results thorough this type of strategic incentive program.
Squamish will also invite RFPs for a filmmaker who could create an enticing video about Squamish, and what it has to offer to the world.
The committee is also working towards celebrating the town’s 50th anniversary. Economic development lectures series are also planned.
There are indeed some new and fresh ingredients being mixed in the potpurri ?
Will it be finger-lickin good or will it leave a bad taste ?