By Nate Dolha
Published: Dec. 8, 2012
So, another news cycle in Squamish, another outrage… A dreaded rezoning application is on the books again at muni hall.
You’d think it was something worthy of our angst, given the outpouring of emotion from some of our fine citizens and one district councillor. It must be something so soul robbing that we need to circle the wagons to protect our very way of life!
The offending re-zoning culprit? A bank. Yes you read that right; a bank.
Sure, there’s a new Tim Horton’s in the proposal, but it fits the current zoning, so we’ll treat the ‘outrage’ for what it is; protectionist bluster.
So, what is at the root of this disproportionate response? Some opponents will argue that we shouldn’t cater to big businesses and their evil 1% tendencies, and instead focus on protecting ‘local business’.
While noble in intent, this claim grossly ignores the reality that this Tim Horton’s is a franchise, owned and operated by one of our own.
Others would argue that the presence of drive-throughs and their companion idling cars contribute to an increased carbon footprint. Maybe, but this, like most developments in Squamish, is car centric.
On the upside, this location is at least walkable for a large number of citizens, and would be located around similar service businesses in a commercial node, accessible by car, foot, bike, and transit.
The location of a bank on this site would better serve the majority of Squamish residents, who happen to live north of downtown, and would likely be better from an emissions standpoint over sending more folks down the highway towards downtown to do their banking.
For the token council opposition, Councillor Chapelle argues that institutions should be located downtown, as per our Official Community Plan (OCP). Again, noble intent, but let’s have a look at the realities:
First, adding another bank downtown will not revitalize anything. If that was the case, we should have a thriving downtown given the other banks present.
Second issue that I see with this claim from Councillor Chapelle is the wording within the OCP itself, which makes no such claim.
The text of item 14 – 28 of the OCP reads: “Civic and institutional uses will be permitted in areas designated Civic and Institutional, Downtown or Mixed Use Commercial on Schedule B. These uses include: government buildings, hospital, cemetery, assembly facilities, and public care facilities.”
Guess what? Aside from banks not being considered institutions in our OCP, when I look at Schedule B of the OCP, the location in question for this development is designated Mixed Use Commercial, so I believe we can drop the OCP argument, too.
Perhaps, instead of trying to force the market, Councillor Chapelle can focus on positive steps for downtown that are actually within council’s mandate, like implementing a Business Revitalization Zone, or place making activities such as the Mamquam Blind Channel path envisioned by Ted Prior?
If the desire of council is to get travellers downtown instead of passing through, perhaps a sign on the highway so they know where downtown is?
We’ve had great ideas, ample time and rhetoric around what is needed for downtown. What is missing is some leadership, political will, and action from Councillor Chapelle and her colleagues on making something happen in that space.
Now, what troubled me most in this case is not the re-zoning, the drive-through, or a councillor who attempted to influence the public process prior to the public hearing; it is the message this fuss sends to the larger investment community.
Last November we gave council a mandate to begin fixing our economic mess. We told them as a community that we needed jobs, and we needed them now. Many had dreams of landing a big fish, and having the roads to the promised Land paved with gold.
If we allow this level of polarization around a proposal for a Tim Horton’s and a bank, how could we possibly convince a large scale industrial investor to consider Squamish a safe place to explore, nevermind invest?
We need to remind ourselves that council is not here to protect us from the evil corporate overlords, they are not here to regulate the marketplace, nor are they are not here to extend the nanny state to our byways and highways.
If we want local business to thrive, then we, as a community, need to make that happen.
If we desire a strong foodie movement, then our dining establishments must create that buzz without subsidy. If we don’t want drive-throughs, then council needs to change zoning before there is an application in good faith.
So Squamish, are we open for business, or not?
(Editor’s Note: A print version of this article misspelled Coun. Susan Chapelle’s last name. We regret the error.)