A Vision for Squamish

While Vancouver has always been among the darlings in our endless quest for the world's most livable city and Whistler's expansion, popularity and international reputation was a veritable juggernaut in the 1980's and '90's, Squamish, it seems has been the consummate quiet achiever.

Like a younger sibling allowing big sister and brother to push parental boundaries and forge new paths, the City of Squamish has gained much through observation and learned a lot about what works - and what doesn't work - when it comes to creating a truly livable city in a stunning natural environment.

In hindsight, it's not difficult to see how Squamish was bypassed, figuratively speaking, in the last two decades of the 20th century. With all the hype and intensity surrounding Whistler and the rate at which that resort was growing, developers, like the hordes of tourists journeying up the Sea to Sky highway, regarded Squamish as a pit stop on the way to their mountain mecca.

What a difference a decade makes. The eyes of the world may not be fully focused on Squamish, but those of developers, investors and environmental planning professionals found their mark some years back. As a result, the region is not only thriving in the real estate market, it is also being upheld as a model for sustainable growth. With no fewer than 15 new residential developments currently for sale in Squamish, as well as extensive plans to develop the waterfront lands and revitalize the downtown core, the city of Squamish is in the midst of rapid and significant transformation.

For those living outside the Sea to Sky corridor, the "new look Squamish" seems to have appeared from out of the blue. Big box stores Wal Mart and Home Depot sprung up on the main thoroughfare in late 2006 and Quest, a private University in Garibaldi Highlands - with views certain to enhance the learning process - had its first intake of students last fall. And year after year, the number of residential developments continues to expand. The apparent speed with which these changes are taking place is something of a misnomer, as most Squamish residents will attest.

Since 2004, the District of Squamish has been working hand in hand with Smart Growth on the Ground (SGOG) to envision, plan and create a more sustainable future for Squamish and the surrounding community. SGOG is a partnership of the Design Centre for Sustainability at UBC, the Real Estate Institute of BC and Smart Growth BC. Their mandate is to help BC communities prepare more sustainable neighbourhood plans - including land use, transportation, urban design, and building design plans. The inevitability of large scale expansion, especially following the Olympics announcement in 2003 made Squamish a prime candidate to partner with SGOG to commence this long term planning and implementation process.

Current real estate developments in Squamish are as diverse as the surrounding geography and the widely touted range of recreational activities. In the heart of the downtown, The Artisan features funky apartments and townhomes, with two dedicated art galleries in the front foyer, while just across the highway, enthusiastic adventure seekers are being courted by the developers of Red Point. A four level condominium project, Red Point is created around Base Camp - a 3500 square foot amenity building complete with kayak storage, bike wash-down station and a bouldering wall, not to mention an indoor gym and sauna for that post adrenalin wind down.

As tourism and recreational activities continue to thrive, facilities such as Garibaldi Springs Golf Resort are attracting investment dollars while nearby developments capitalize on the resort style and planning. Alpenlofts, located at the entrance to the resort are as the name suggests, loft residences in an alpine style, while the nearby Galleries complex provides for a combination of commercial and residential opportunities in what they term live/work spaces. Essentially, buyers can select from residential or commercial space only, or a combination both. The residences themselves are also slanted toward home based businesses, artists and other professionals.

Far from simply emulating the trends in city living, these new developments are serving the needs of a diverse and evolving demographic. Squamish attracts young families and professionals seeking respite from city and suburbs, while still being part of a vibrant, progressive community. Future professionals are also honing their skills in the city of Squamish, with the expansion of Capilano College campus and the long awaited Quest University. An important component of the city's official community plan, the university was partly funded by acquiring 300 acres of land and selling off close to 50 acres for residential development.

The Peaks at University Heights is the end result of this arrangement and if initial sales figures are anything to go by, Squamish is more than ready for an upscale residential community with a university pedigree. Aside from maintaining visual continuity with the extraordinary natural environment, developer Douglas Day, a Squamish local, is passionate about the use of green technology and environmentally sound principles.

"All the homes at University Heights will be equipped with geothermal ground source systems for heating and cooling," Day explains. "These are the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean and cost-effective systems available - and the homeowners save on their bills."

Day has also incorporated 'Fire Smart' principles - sprinkler systems, fire resistant materials and effective buffering from forested areas for all homes - as well as alternative storm water management features, such as rainwater collection systems to capture and treat roof and street runoff for eventual use in the garden.

While Day creates an environmental haven in the highlands, Solterra Developments are forging ahead with Eaglewind - a 25 acre master-planned community located between downtown Squamish and the Squamish River estuary. Launched in 2005, but conceived years before, Eaglewind's planners had an innate sense of Squamish's future when they devised this multi faceted neighbourhood. The residential developments are marketed in four distinct phases -Talon and Rockcliff (already completed), Streams, which is currently for sale and the final phase, Summits View which will be offered this summer. When fully completed, Eaglewind will be home to 235 residences - a mixture of row homes, carriage homes and condominium apartments.

What makes Eaglewind so distinctive, however, are the amenities being created as part of the overall development. The entryway is a tree-lined boulevard opening into a piazza and an easily accessible commercial centre. Of the 25 acre land parcel, almost half is devoted to parkland, with walking trails, paved tennis and street hockey courts a lawn sports court and a community garden.

Solterra's Development Manager, Mike Bosa is quick to point out that these facilities are for everyone, not just the residents of Eaglewind.

"Our overall aim in developing this concept was to enhance the entire area and generate a sense of inclusiveness with the community," Bosa says.

"We've done our best to cater to everyone, from the youngest - with the children's play area, to the district-run Seniors' Centre, where older members of the community can get together for recreation, entertainment, educational courses, or a congenial game of cards."

Solterra has worked closely with the District of Squamish in incorporating the SGOG principals into the design and construction of Eaglewind and the response from the community has been extremely positive.

The sustainable vision for Squamish incorporates improved transportation, creating and maintaining a mix of facilities for working, living, playing and learning, and ensuring that any developments are in harmony with the sensitive environmental nature of the area.

So, if the current drive through Squamish seems congested with traffic, construction work and a plethora of signs for new residential developments, you can rest assured the vision is clear, the planning has a purpose and the future of Squamish is in very capable hands.