Squamish, a developing community

With many new housing projects on the horizon, Squamish is luring newcomers to town

Squamish has so many new housing developments recently completed, underway or in the works that it ranks among the fastest-growing communities in the country. 

At last census, Squamish was home to 17,500 people, but some predict that number could double in less than 20 years. 

As housing costs in Metro Vancouver have skyrocketed, concentric circles of economic and population impacts have been felt in outlying areas. While Vancouver’s eastern and southern suburbs have been beset by suburban sprawl, the District of Squamish, along with developers, seems determined to accommodate increased population while simultaneously maintaining the things that make people want to move here in the first place.

Set to redefine the future of the community is a 20-year build-out of the most extensive planned development Squamish has ever seen. The Newport Beach project, which includes 59 acres of formerly industrial lands and another 44 acres of submerged water lots, will redefine the waterfront. 

On completion, the mixed-use project is anticipated to be home to 6,500 people and draw locals and visitors to restaurants, commercial, retail, educational and light-industrial enterprises that employ 2,300 people. Plans for the area, sold by the District of Squamish to the developers in February 2016, include a $10-million oceanfront park, two boat launch areas and a waterfront walkway for the public. 

Closer to market are a large number of developments already filled with new homeowners or which will be ready for occupancy in the next year or two. Most are significant multi-unit developments, each with their own particular range of attractions for buyers, from first-timers to downsizers. 

At least one is an innovative approach to small-scale urban infill, which hopes to be a pilot project for the fast-changing downtown. 

Loggers Lofts is different from the multitudes of other developments because, if nothing else, it involves just two units. 

In a market where triple-digit units are common, this could count as a micro-development. Except it could be the first of many, if Chris Hunter and his partners at Elevation Real Estate Development find success in the niche. 

They are counting on the idea that more people want to live and work in the same place, which is not so novel, but they contend that existing models of live-work spaces are not all they’re cracked up to be.

“We are trying to create live-and-work spaces that actually are practical to live and work,” he says. 

The traditional live-work loft mashes up work space with personal space, which isn’t always ideal. Loggers Lofts are walk-ups with each floor having two relatively equal sized rooms – as well as private rooftop decks. Each floor can be configured for a range of uses.

“It can be a two-bedroom, it can be a four-bedroom, it could be four office rooms, without changing much in the building,” Hunter says. “It’s great for a live-in nanny on the ground floor with a single parent living on the second floor or the potential for a mortgage helper. Or, for someone like me who works from home, you can have your architectural practice and clients can come to the first floor without disturbing your actual living area upstairs.”

Loggers Lofts are, ultimately, the Squamish dream writ small. The vision of combining life, work and recreation in a cohesive package are what many developers are realizing people here (or contemplating moving here) want. 

Rec and tech is an emerging motto, encapsulating the idea that people here want to live indoor-outdoor lifestyles and, while they may or may not be directly involved in tech industries, technology allows many to work remotely, telecommute or operate their global businesses from this small but growing corner of the Pacific. 

Darren McCartney is a real estate agent doing sales and marketing for Newport Landing (not to be confused with the huge Newport Beach development). This 29-unit development got swallowed up in five weeks by buyers going for the affordability provided by smaller square footages than many of the offerings on the market. About 75 per cent of buyers, McCartney estimates, are from Metro Vancouver and he guesses about one-third of them were snapped up by investors who recognize the hot Squamish rental market. The location helped. 

“Number one, we’re backing onto green space,” he says. “Number two, we are one-and-a-half blocks without crossing a major street to both the high school and the elementary school.” 

Other developments on offer include Skyridge, a mountainside community north of the Garibaldi Springs Golf Course near Brackendale. Among the more than 100 homes on offer are 2,300-square-foot duplexes and 2,100-square-foot townhouses. The complex, by Diamond Head Development, is pitching its “Built Green” certification, which promises 100-year durability, money-saving efficiency and fewer temperature variations between rooms. The development also includes public amenities including a park, walking trails and the potential of an on-site school. 

Ravenswood, by Benchmark Homes, will have 111 three- and four-bedroom single-family homes in Brennan Centre developed over four phases. 

Target Homes has two projects in Squamish, each aimed at a different market segment. Breeze includes 72 three-bedroom townhomes of 800 to more than 1,400 square feet, each with a private rooftop “sky lounge,” as well as 10 two-bedroom live-work loft homes featuring 14-foot ceilings. Families looking for more space are directed to Abbey Lane, which is, by current Squamish standards, a small build of 10 single-family homes on smaller lots, featuring outdoor living rooms with double-sided fireplaces and mountain views. 

Grant Gillies, president of Target Homes, says they are two quite distinct products. Prices reflect size, with Breeze selling from $550,000 to $700,000 and Abbey Lane offerings from $750,000. 

Gillies says Metro Vancouver homebuyers can find comparative prices in Maple Ridge, Langley or Surrey. 

“Or you can be in Squamish and the lifestyle differences are quite clear,” he says. Squamish is a more active, outdoor-oriented place and the commute to the city is equivalent or shorter and, he adds, “a gorgeous drive.” 

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