Shovels should soon be in the ground on phase one of Solterra’s Sea to Sky Business Park.
The development on the southeast corner of Commercial and Discovery ways will include a mix of commercial businesses, a “pedestrian plaza,” several public open spaces and a transit stop. The project will also include two drive-thrus.
Though the district has pressed pause on considering drive-thrus until council determines the future restrictions to be placed on the businesses, this property’s zoning was approved in 2014, so the drive-thrus in this project are grandfathered, according to district staff.
The development will be made up of four single-storey commercial buildings.
During the busiest times of the day the development will potentially generate 95 vehicles per hour, according to Peter Joyce of Bunt and Associates Transportation Planning and Engineering, the consultants who undertook a traffic study for the project on behalf of the Solterra Group of Companies. Seventy-two parking stalls will be on site.
Council voted to grant the project its development permit with variances at a special business meeting on July 26.
Only Councillor Jason Blackman-Wulff voted against it. He didn’t mince words about his opposition.
“So, sprawl has come to Squamish and this is it,” he said. “I have seen a lot of these in other places, whether they be in the Fraser Valley or in other places around the country and what ends up happening is they look really good in the planning stage – they have these lovely gardens and landscaping and all of that – but the functionality is not there…. It is a very car-dominant thing.”
Mayor Patricia Heintzman and Councillor Susan Chapelle supported the basics of the project but struggled with the Commercial Way entrance to access the centre and a drive-thru because they said it impedes walking and biking access.
Darren McCartney of RE/MAX Sea to Sky Real Estate, the leasing agent for the project, defended the need for the entrance.
“It is not a secret drive-thrus are not popular from a policy standpoint from the city, but at the end of the day, on this site… whether it be for the drive-thru or the other retail businesses on the site this access and the convenience of the access is necessary for viability,” McCartney said. “I wouldn’t suggest moving forward with the plan if it was removed because quite frankly I don’t think I could lease it.”
After the meeting Councillor Jason Blackman-Wulff told The Squamish Chief this project has the first drive-thrus council has approved that were not destined for sites along the highway.
“I am not very comfortable with that,” he said.
Mike Bosa of Solterra told council not all of the company’s other developments in the area have tenants, so it is important to make the commercial plaza as attractive to businesses as possible by having the Commercial Way access to the centre.
Bosa also said this development is phase one on the five-acre property. Phase two will have about 50,000 more square feet of commercial space, and plans are in the works for more warehouse space on adjacent properties.
“What you see there is only one third of what is going to be there,” he said.
Future developments will create more traffic and more need for the Commercial Way entrance for access, Bosa said.
Blackman-Wulff told The Squamish Chief when a development comes before council with variances, as the Solterra project did, asking for a relaxation of district rules around setbacks and a reduction in the number of loading bays, he expects more from the company.
“It is a give and take,” he said. “We want to facilitate making their project to be the best it can be from their perspective, and achieving their goals. But they also, in return, I think the expectation is they are going to help us achieve our goals as a district around active transportation and safety, and I think that eliminating that one turn-in for cars would have made a big difference with minimal impact on the actual business.”
Blackman-Wulff said council needs to update the development permit area guidelines to ensure future developments make pedestrian and cycling access a priority. For more on the master plan for the business park, go to www.seatoskybusinesspark.com/.