Would a developer build a badly needed amenity for the citizens of Squamish to use? Say, for example, a pool and exercise room somewhere downtown?
In fact, one did. Not a full-sized pool, but a 3-lane lap pool, what looks like a hot tub, and a fitness area. 10,000 square feet in all – promised to be publicly accessible to the community in exchange for increased density when the property was rezoned.
Unfortunately, the area sits unfinished and unused.
What happened? Why, when Brennan Park is bursting at the seams, is this area sitting unfinished and unused? There is a bit of a complicated history here, spanning several staff and councils.
When the land was rezoned for the AQUA development downtown way back in 2007, the original developer agreed to build a pool that would be publicly accessible as a community amenity. The first developer then went bankrupt. By the time the bankruptcy proceedings went through, and a new developer was at the helm, staff and Council had changed, and there was no clear vision of what to do with the space.
A new developer returned for rezoning a decade later, and there were discussions in Council about this project and community amenity contributions from February to June of 2016 (Patricia Heintzman was mayor, and Doug Race & Karen Elliot were on Council at that time). Community Amenity Contributions were discussed as part of that second rezoning. In presentations and discussions in the Council minutes, it is clear that the developer was fully expected to be providing this indoor amenity.
On April 19th in 2016, staff put forward three options to Council: complete the recreation centre, use the area as an arts/community centre, or accept a cash contribution.
The strata was concerned about legal and insurance issues with public access to their site (fair). From what I can piece together from various people, “The legal aspects of this were not well thought out,” and there is no way to transfer the pool area, which was registered as the common property of the Strata, to the District.
On May 17th, it seems it was decided to accept a cash community amenity contribution of $170,000 to go to affordable housing and child care. (Both are important, but what can $170K do?) At that point, according to an article from the Squamish Chief, the developer had promised to complete the on-site recreation centre and discussed funds for a District Lift Station and cleaning up the pond in the area.
Today, the area sits empty and unfinished – while parents fight to get their kids lessons at Brennan Park, and people have been turned away on busy days.
A missed opportunity.
This is a disappointing missed opportunity for Squamish citizens where pool time is in desperate demand as learning to swim is an essential life skill. A pool downtown might also be an excellent option for some daytime senior “aqua-fit” classes or a convenient weight/exercise room for downtown residents – particularly seniors who would greatly benefit from a nearby exercise outlet.
With a desperate need for pool time, could the District work with the Strata Council to finish the pool and operate it for lessons? Or perhaps a private company could step in and run the facility on a contract basis. Or, maybe the strata residents are not keen to see the pool put into use and the associated noise & parking problems.
Developers will pay for community amenities we can all use.
We can learn two things from this. 1) Developers are more than willing to invest in or pay for substantial and much-needed amenities in return for rezoning – significantly if the asset can benefit their potential customers/buyers. Council just had to ask. 2) When we work with developers to create amenities, the contingencies & legalities need to be planned out.
Community Amenity Contributions can be requested/negotiated from Developers when the property is rezoned to help compensate for the increased density and value created for the developer – sometimes called “Land Lift” or “Density Bouncing”. Unfortunately, through our recent substantial growth, the District has been collecting dimes for what should be dollars on major rezoning. The District is updating its Community Amenity Contribution Policy. https://letstalksquamish.ca/cac-policy-review If we want to see more community amenities paid for by developers, it is essential to get good public engagement.
Squamish is creating millions of dollars in value for developers, but while our population increases, our community amenities – recreation facilities and roads- are not growing with the population’s needs.
Thank you to Devin Biln and Matt Gunn for sending documents related to this.