Squamish

Act as if what you do makes a difference.
It does.
” (William James)

 

 

 

On August 6th 2011 the Squamish Reporter published an article on a proposed floating home development for the Mamquam Blind Channel (Developer Plans 40 Homes on Squamish River). The proposal as submitted to the District of Squamish by Jim Charlebois and Ammi Tepper on February 15 2011 can be found here. There is no doubt this is a compelling idea and one of the first (I have heard) which creates a living environment built upon our ocean real estate. I for one would even consider buying a floating home in Squamish, provided it was responsibly developed and implemented. However, lofty ideas, flashy presentations and beautiful pictures are not enough to create a sound or responsible development plan which benefits the community as much as the developer’s bank account.

In order for this development proposal (or others) to be approved and ultimately successful (for the community as much as the developer) , I believe Squamish needs to set a higher-standard of exceptional building practices, reputable builders, quality trades as well as significantly more community engagement and municipal oversight than we have seen previously. In other words Squamish, and the community, needs to put more effort into ensuring our current, and past development disasters are not repeated. We also need to find improved ways to engage the community in all aspects of our ongoing development, including this proposal for floating homes on the Mamquam Blind Channel.

I am a Marina Estates owner, and one who played a key, if not fundamental role in exposing shoddy construction, negligent practices and less-than-adequate municipal oversight leading to costly building envelop repairs. As a result of (claimed) negligent building practices, Marina Estates is currently involved in a legal action (file #S093920) against the District of Squamish, original developer (Ed Vernon), some of his business partners as well as 17 other defendants including architects, engineers, consultants and most contractors involved with the construction of Marina Estates. Also, Marina Estates is not the first local development project involving Ed Vernon which led to legal action. Squamish also has the unfortunate legacy of various sub trades not getting paid when large-scale building projects go over-budget or fail to bring in the revenues expected. (More builder liens hit corridor projects – The Chief July 14 2010).

Although reputable developers and adequate municipal oversight are fundamental to the success of any development project, they are not the only criteria we should be seeking when deciding on a development proposal. Today we live in a very different world than our parents. We have at our finger-tips, knowledge, information and communication tools which create the potential for a truly global community. These tools and the growth of social networking are having a significant impact on global politics and how governments’ engage with the people who’s welfare they are entrusted with. Government, planners, developers and educators who rely on the support of the people they impact can no longer make decisions in isolation. Nor can (or should) large-scale development projects be driven exclusively by profit alone. We need a new type of government and a new type of developer – we need social entrepreneurs. In his book “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century“, Thomas Friedman puts it this way:

One of the newest figures to emerge on the world stage in recent years is the social entrepreneur. This is usually someone who burns with desire to make a positive social impact on the world, but believes that the best way of doing it is, as the saying goes, not by giving poor people a fish and feeding them for a day, but by teaching them to fish, in hopes of feeding them for a lifetime. I have come to know several social entrepreneurs in recent years, and most combine a business school brain with a social worker’s heart. The triple convergence and the flattening of the world have been a godsend for them. Those who get it and are adapting to it have begun launching some very innovative projects.”

I certainly don’t wish to give anyone the wrong impression, or that I know anything about large-scale development projects or community planning. I do not. The opinions expressed here are simply that – opinions and I draw upon no other information other than what I can find online, and my own personal and professional experiences in psychology, collaboration and community-building technologies. That being said, I believe there is good evidence to consider at least the following issues when we determine the viability, suitability and community-benefits of this floating home proposal.

1: We Must Have Reputable Builders with a Good History:

Research, research and MORE research is needed to ensure that Squamish does not rubber stamp another building project headed for failure, either right at the start or down the road. I have no idea who Ammi Tepper is, how long he has been in the business, or what his track record is for other projects similar in scope and cost. It is entirely possible he has a lengthy and successful record of building homes, particularly floating homes. This would certainly work in his favor. Is the builder associated with any reputable building associations? Have there ever been any complaints or accolades made towards the developer? I have also heard an unsettling rumor that this floating home project has some affiliation with a current, or previous, business partner/associate of Ed Vernon. If this is more than a rumor, it certainly warrants significant concern and at least further investigation.

2: Increased Municipal Oversight

Marina Estates is a prime example of what can, and does go wrong when there is not enough, or questionable municipal involvement in local building projects. I have seen some of the evidence which supports our claim against the District of Squamish and I firmly believe that at least some of the responsibility for our building envelop catastrophe rests with the District. We should do everything in our power as a community to prevent this type of costly and emotionally devastating situation from occurring again. Some Marina Estates owners even lost their homes as a result and as a community we should be ashamed that this was allowed to happen. I believe that increased, evidence-based and industry-supported oversight by the District of Squamish would reduce the chances for another “Marina Estates”.  Along with the legal or municipal requirements for approving or supervising a new development project, these projects also need the approval of the community since we are the ones left holding the bag if they fail. Far more work needs to be done in this area and I would be more than willing to help both the DOS and the developer in utilizing collaboration & social networking tools to better engage the community in this process.

3: Builders and Developers Should be Community-Driven

As was previously mentioned, we live in a very different world today and any activity, business or development which impacts or relies upon the community should actively engage the community at all levels and all stages. In the past, developers could simply send out flashy presentations, carefully crafted media releases and would hold the occasional public forum when demanded. I would imagine that many developers think of these “community” and “notification” requirements as annoying or pointless hoops they need to jump through in order to get their developments approved, completed, sold and money in the bank. I believe those days are gone and all development within a community should actively and thoroughly engage the community at all levels and all stages. This active engagement should, whenever possible, be motivated by a sincere and authentic desire to improve the community in some way. I beleive we should be accepting sound business and development proposals from developers who can “combine a business school brain with a social worker’s heart” ( Thomas Friedman).

Potential Issues with Floating Homes:

I certainly don’t consider myself very knowledgeable about the floating home industry, and so this list of potential issues, or at least things to consider, may not be complete or even valid.

  • Rising Sea Levels: Some scientific estimates suggest that by 2100 we could have a rise in sea levels of 1 meter. This may not sound like much but can, and would have a significant impact on coastal communities around the world. An even more pressing and current potential concern are the effects of rising sea levels resulting from storm surges.
  • Sewage Processing: Exactly how and where will sewage waste be dealt with in these floating homes? In my opinion there must be 0.00% of waste dumped into the Blind Channel NO EXCEPTIONS or the project should die quickly. We live in a (nearly) pristine and beautiful wilderness environment renowned around the world and so there should be a zero tolerance level for ANY development which negatively impacts our terrestrial or ocean assets.
  • Smell: We have all been around tidal flats or lowland waterways at low tide. They all have a particular smell and the Mamquam Blind Channel is no exception. How bad does it get? Will sewage processing or distribution add to this? How much will owners accept such smells in order to live on the water?
  • Noise: We all know how well sound travels through, and over water. With buildings or bush acting as a sound barrier on the East side of the channel, and float homes sitting on the water between that barrier and Marina Estates, I suspect we will hear everything that happens down on the water.
  • Parking: This is a big one. Marina Estates already accommodates increased traffic and parking issues as a result of being the only access to one of the marinas as well as a small tug boat and water taxi service. There is absolutely no way we could accommodate, or accept, an increase in pass-through traffic or parking.

Summary:

I believe the floating home proposal in Squamish is a GREAT idea and has the potential to bring many benefits to our community both in the short-term and long-term. Increased development always means jobs and of course (carefully) expanding our residential living experience out on to our ocean assets would likely increase the appeal of our community as a whole. Up until now Squamish has not made any significant progress in developing or promoting our waterfront, beyond the 20 year Oceanfront Development Project. Sure, it’s a great vision but far too distant for us as a community to realize any immediate benefits.

As others have often stated, Squamish has GREAT potential and the floating home proposal is an opportunity worth considering. However, we also have a less-than-great reputation and history of failed or problematic building projects, shoddy construction, disreputable builders, inadequate municipal oversight or community involvement. At the very least our previous failures should serve as a lesson as to how NOT to approve or support some development proposals. In my opinion, some of these failed building projects were also a result of developers pushing them forward with profit being the sole motivation. There is no question that developers have to turn a profit and so we can’t fault them for that. But there are also developers out there who can balance a sincere and authentic desire to do what is best for the community, while also profiting from the project. I believe Squamish needs more of this class of developer, the social entrepreneur. It is possible that Ammi Tepper is one of these ethical and community-minded developers with high standards for building trades quality and exceptional workmanship. We (the community and the municipality) just need to be prudent and carry out the research and get involved so we can reduce the chances of failure and ensure that the community benefits alongside the bank accounts of the developers.

I think the proposal for floating homes in Squamish is most definitely worth considering. However, if we truly hope to turn things around for Squamish, and support development which works as much for the community as it does the developers, I believe we need (at least) three things:

  1. Reputable Builders with a Good History
  2. Increased and Improved Municipal Oversight
  3. Community-Driven Developers (Social Entrepreneurs)

Floating homes in Squamish are a great idea. We just need to make sure we do this right and keep our focus on what is best for the community, and ensure we approve projects and developers who have our best-interests in mind as well as their own. This is where the world is heading (increased community engagement), Squamish just needs realize this, pick up the ball and run with it now.

Links:

Floating Home Association (Pacific) of Canada

Floating Homes Association (Seattle)

Floating Homes

B.C. homes take to the water

An Investigation of the Issues and Implications of Floating Homes: The Greater Vancouver Region

Johnny Stork

An Old Hippie and Jolly Mystic Dude with a background (or interests) in psychology, sexuality, philosophy, spirituality, consciousness, contemplative practices and technology. In a few different previous lives/careers I have been a youth-care worker and program developer; statistician; database developer; web developer; WordPress developer; Linux administrator and open-source consultant; network/website security administrator; social-media and web marketing specialist; male waiter on Ladies Nights and a pourer of molten steel.

I currently hang out in Gibson’s BC while attending Alef Trust (Middlesex University) as a Master’s student in Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal Psychology. When I am not reading, studying, writing, blogging, listening to music or contemplating my navel, I like to spend time taking photos, hiking, 4x4ing, camping, kayaking or challenging social, sexual, gender and intellectual stereotypes.

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Floating Homes in Squamish: Good Idea or Bad Idea? by Johnny Stork is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

One Response to “Floating Homes in Squamish: Good Idea or Bad Idea?”

  1. Great insight into this issue. You’re right, to explore a potential floating home community, community involvement is one of the most crucial factors aside from municipal laws and regulations. Sometimes people are for it, sometimes against it. In any case, if the community feels its right, its worth taking the next step.

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