By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Feb 24, 2017
A Downtown Squamish resident is questioning the council’s approval of a six-story apartment building on Loggers Lane, which she says will block the views of the Chief and defile the outdoor recreation brand of Squamish. Speaking at a meeting where council approved the Sirocco project, writer and downtown resident Thomasina Pidgeon said the Chief Mountain is sacred and the “ main artwork of Squamish.”
An incredulous Thomasina said she was dismayed that council would vote to allow a building that would hide the Chief. “I really, really value the view and having a six story building is just disgusting. I really don’t understand how any of you could allow anything that would block the view of something that is so sacred. I just don’t understand why block that view and this building will block it,” she said.
“They (council) are going to rebrand the place into something which Squamish isn’t right now and they don’t seem to be listening. They seem to be listening to someone else,” Thomasina Piedgeon.
“This is a huge piece of the art in front of you and people like looking at it because it brings a sense of connection to the earth. It’s special and it’s unique and shouldn’t be blocked by development. This is a special piece of land and this can turn into something better. I feel like your vision is short-sighted,” she said.
The new six story development will cover a city block on Loggers Lane, from the intersection at Winnipeg to Victoria. It will be 18 feet taller that the Minstral, the new rental-only building recently built on Logger Lane. Sirocco consists of three apartment buildings with 138 units and 34 floating homes. Each of the three buildings will have 46 residential units including one, two and three bedroom suites as well as two commercial units.
Speaking to the council, Sirocco developer Michael Hutchison said he takes the district’s OCP very seriously when he plans a development and the Sirocco proposal meets all the OCP and other district requirements.
“I’m the fourth developer to attempt to develop this site and it’s a tremendously difficult site to build on. We haven’t asked for any relaxation or any OCP amendments. It meets the OCP, it meets the downtown area plan, it meets the DPA of the Blind Channel and we thought it’s what the community wanted and has a lot of benefits,” he said. The development would provide diversity of housing choices with 67 per cent of the area open for public access, 150 jobs per year over build out, along with a flood protection dike and $1.7 million in Community Amenity Contributions, according to the proponent.
The developer is on the right side of the OCP as the zoning does allow for up to six stories on Logger Lane. Sirocco has now passed the crucial third reading but the district plans to look at building height when it adopts the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan, said district planner Jonas Velaniskis. That plan will be adopted as part of the Official Community Plan next year. “The Downtown Neighbhouirhood plan has not been adopted so it’s not in play at that moment, but it recommends 4-storey as the height for downtown. The Sirroco site contemplates a 5-storey height, but it compensates for the extra height by providing internal views through the site breaking the site into three buildings. As well, a continuous public waterfront walkway along the Blind Channel will be part of the development with unimpeded views,” he said.
But according to Thomasina and others who spoke at the meeting, nothing can compensate for what the development will take away from Squamish: the prized view of the famous Squamish Chief Mountain that brings thousands of visitors to Squamish. Carol and Dave Smeck also before at the meeting where council approved the Sirocco project.
“I love Squamish and I love the outdoors and the nature of it but having this along the channel would be unbelievably ugly. I don’t think the building should be over two stories. You put a five story building plus a basement, what kind of view of the mountain is left. It will be a distractor for the community, not an asset,” Carol Smeck.
“I love Squamish and I love the outdoors and the nature of it but having this along the channel would be unbelievably ugly. I don’t think the building should be over two stories. You put a five story building plus a basement, what kind of view of the mountain is left. It will be a distractor for the community, not an asset,” she said,” said Carol Smeck.
Dave Smeck said this decision is so vital it merits a public referendum. “I think this would merit a public referendum but the public needs to educate itself on this so we don’t look back and have any regrets. I encourage you to have a public referendum in importance of the place,” he said.
The Mayor and council, however, voted unanimously to support the project. Speaking in support of the development, Coun. Race said he looked forward to the development because it would animate the waterfront and provide a public amenity of a dike that would protect the community. Calling the float homes a “bold step”, Race said they can be a real attraction for the community if they are done right.
Race said he had rejected a five-storey project at the same location when he was first elected to the council in 2008. He was talking about a proposal brought forward by BC Rail to rezone the Loggers Lane for a residential development. “I have some history. After a month I was elected to the council, the previous owner put forward a proposal to have that block and the block to the south develop for four stories plus parking, so a total of fivestories. And it was a two long building, with each building taking a whole block. And I voted against it at that time, and spoke then that I always wanted to have a sense of what was on the other side of the building. If I was in the downtown area, to somehow see through the development to a certain extent,” he said.
And that, he added, is what is attractive for him in this development. “It’s not one large building, but broken into three separate buildings, and there are quite significant gaps between them which will allow for partial views and sense of knowing what’s on the other side. I don’t really think it’s going to block as much of the Chief as people think it will unless you are standing right next to the building because I when I look at Marina estate, and when you are standing back a bit in the downtown area, they hold back surprisingly little of the top of the mountain. As a community, we will be better off with that strip of land down there,” he said.
Mayor Heintzman praised and voted to support the Sirroco project. “There is lots of interesting aspects to this, including accessibility feature, and continuing protection of the downtown with the dike being built and I’m looking forward to this getting built,” she said.
Unlike Race, Heintzman made no mention of the BC Rail project and the fact that she had not supported a similar project back then. Responding to questions after the meeting, Heintzman said the BC Rail project was eight years ago and she didn’t recall the specifics of why she didn’t support the BC Rail project. She didn’t say whether her refusal to support it had anything to do with it downtown viewscapes.
“I don’t remember specifically. I do remember not liking uniformity of heights in general. I think I might have likened this type of development to “linked sausages”. But it was a comment I had for our general philosophy about height maximums instead of height average so it is not specific to this development necessarily,” she said.
Mayor Heintzman said there were aspects of the project that needed improvement that made the project unsupportable at the time. One of the main issue was the lack of connectivity of the downtown parks with the Mamquam blind channel. “Both the charrette visioning exercises we did in 2004 (before I was on council although I was part of the Charente team) and another one a couple years later included a park system that connected to the Mamquam Blind Channel. The BC Rail project had a series of linked apartment/condo buildings along their entire 2 block area with token access. It did not meet the litmus test. They were other things that I can’t remember off the top of my head,” she said.
She said she expected BC Rail to modify and improved the project and bring it back for council to consider but that didn’t happen. “I suspect a number of things happened, including global economic downturn that led them to not pursue the project at that time. I don’t remember specifics. It was 8 years ago,” she said.
Concerns about viewscapes for Sirroco project were also raised in the Advisory Design Panel (ADP) committee of the district, a committee that advises staff and council regarding the design of residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Concerns that the building massing would obstruct views of the Chief from Cleveland were raised in the ADP, but there is no video record of the meeting. It’s the only ADP meeting which is not available for the public in the district’s video archive. “Unfortunately, there was an issue with the audio recording of the July 21 ADP meeting and it recorded without the audio. We therefore don’t have a video archives of that meeting,” said Christina Moore, the district spokesperson.
Andreas Kaminiski, an architect for Sirroco, said the building won’t be seen even from Cleveland Ave as the existing buildings on Cleveland will obscure the Loggers Lane building. “And when you look down on the ends of the street, you can see the ends of the building. It no ways obstruct the Squamish Chief. The Chief is just much too big to be obstructed until you get right up on to the building on loggers lane” he said.
Councilor Karen Elliott said she had heard the community’s concerns but voted to support the Sirroco project. “I know the town is changing and I think the best views would be from the waterfront walkway. It’s a change for people but I really think animating the waterfront and having float homes is new and it’s a great place to put it. Moving forward on this is the right thing to do,” she said.
Coun. Jason Blackmann-Wulff said the project will make a good addition to the downtown and provide an access to the waterfront, adding that the float homes will prevent illegal docking. “The environment will improve, it won’t be a traditional natural area but it will be something different and it will bring people to the waterfront may be who had not been there before,” he said. Coun. Ted Prior said he was concerned about the parking situation but supported the project. “I see value in this development and a lot of work will go on that dike and it’s going to take a lot of money. Definitely not happy with parking and we are all aware of that,” he said.
For downtown business owner Kirsten French, development in the core of downtown is welcome but the council needs to be more aware of the “special place” that the natural features like the Chief have for locals. She said she doesn’t mind the buildings as long as they don’t impede the views. Jake from Anna’s Attic believes the development will benefit downtown business owners as more people come to live in the town’s core. Downtown business owner Mike Quesnel said he prefers urban densification that sprawl and the building downtown does that.
“It brings more consumers and makes the town a thriving community and that makes a healthier downtown core. I’d much rather see densification that spreading it in areas where we shouldn’t be going, there is a lot of land downtown that hasn’t been utilized and we should use that rather than going into environmentally sensitive areas,” he said.
More people living downtown means more jobs and a better community, he said. “Hopefully, it will bring more jobs into the downtown as well. It would mean those people living downtown will support more businesses downtown,” he said. Thomasina Pidgeon, meanwhile, says the council should have kept this as green space or at least allow only a smaller building height.
“They are going to rebrand the place into something which Squamish isn’t right now and they don’t seem to be listening. They seem to be listening to someone else,” she said.