For years, as Micheal Blake drove from his Lower Mainland home to his denture clinic in Squamish, he dreamt of living on the Sea to Sky. Over the last year, he watched his home at Britannia Beach being built instead of dreaming about living there.
“Sometimes, I’ll drive by afterwards and late at night, and there’s people, there’s lights on ... somebody’s working,” said Blake.
After the Britannia Mine’s closure and the area being deemed unsuitable for development for a period, residents weren’t sure the area would ever grow. With the first houses complete, it is a milestone for the development and community at large.
Blake’s three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom townhouse, wrapped in cedar planking, sits on the corner of the adjoining townhouses.
He is excited to move in.
When asked what he is most excited about, he told The Squamish Chief he appreciates the choices he had in the build.
“Let’s talk about the toilet,” said Blake. It was important to him to pick one that was easy to clean, he said.
“I’m very happy about that. I see those little details.”
Eric Andreasen, senior vice-president of marketing and sales at Adera Development, said the community is buzzing with the move.
“That’s the first real heartbeat of the community,” he said.
“People are walking in and they’re overwhelmingly in favour of the fact that these are way better than what they were expecting.”
Andreasen is so thrilled with the development, he plans on moving there himself.
Of the 73 homes, 35 have sold, with all but one of the first phase having been purchased.
According to Andreasen, five or six current Britannia Beach residents have bought into the project.
This is up from the two previously reported by the Squamish Chief.
Andreasen recounted someone who purchased a plot of land at the top of Britannia Beach with the intention to build a home. But once she walked through the information centre, she told Andreasen she was going to sell her plot and buy into this development instead.
Navigating the licensing process and obtaining building crews was the most challenging aspect of the build, said Andreasen.
“The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has got lots of stuff going on. But it’s not built for the kind of activity like approving departments have here in Vancouver …. So it’s just a little bit longer,” said Andreasen.
“[But] we really haven’t had things that have been too onerous.”
Tony Rainbow, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District Area D electoral director, thinks Andreasen is right.
“He’s probably correct as he’s wanting to compare us with Vancouver; that’s David and Goliath," said Rainbow. “We’re aware that some things have taken longer than they should have done and we’re making steps to change that and to improve that.”
Rainbow said the building department has recently hired an additional staffer as well as moved the licensure process online. Previously, a physical copy of all documents needed to be delivered to Pemberton.
While this process took time, homes are being completed faster than anticipated. When Blake bought into the project last spring, he was told it would be a year-and-a-half to two years until the deal closed. This gave him time to find a renter for his current property and get his finances in order.
“My complaint is that they got done too soon,” said Blake. “[But] if that’s a drawback, that’s a pretty positive drawback.”
While things are calmer now, and Blake is excited to move in, as having an expedited closing date was stressful. Andreasen said he has heard timing was an issue from one or two, but overall, people are happy to move in sooner.
“I think that originally, no one was quite sure [with the timeline]. We gave it our best guess,” said Andreasen.
While Rainbow says he has not received any complaints about the project, other than the post office closure, which was a decision made by Canada Post, long-term Britannia residents are getting impatient.
“They’ve been without a grocery store there for probably three years now, and they haven’t had a community hall. So, that has disrupted the flow of life in the community,” said Rainbow.
But Rainbow told The Squamish Chief that the locals are generally fond of the developers.
When completed, the development will include a grocery store with a rural liquor licence, a daycare, a pub, among other commercial spaces. While there is no public list of vendors yet, Andreasen said they have a plan for who will be occupying those spaces.
With an influx of new residents in the area, traffic is top of mind for many.
Andreasen previously told The Squamish Chief that he does not foresee a significant change in highway traffic. But Rainbow said that while he does not anticipate upgrades to the highway in the near future, it is needed.
“It’s serious, but I can’t see much in the way it changes in the near future. The Minister of Transport will tell you that the highway is nowhere near capacity and when you compare it with some other highways in the province, it isn’t. [But] at times it is — Sunday afternoon, after skiing [etc] — the road is extremely busy, and there are bottlenecks. Britannia is one of those bottlenecks,” said Rainbow.
“It’s something that we’re going to be living with for a while yet.”
Rainbow thinks if the proposed new development in Furry Creek, with more than 1,000 new housing units, and the wave park at Britannia south goes through, then there could be serious consideration to expand the highway to four lanes. At that point, he suspects the area may consolidate into their own distinct district.
In response, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure told The Squamish Chief that there are no upgrades planned for the Sea to Sky Highway in the Britannia Beach area.
"The highway performs well and is below capacity, even with the heavier traffic at the beginning and end of weekends," the spokesperson said.
As Britannia Beach welcomes new neighbours, more than 20 years after Macdonald started the project, the developers are seeing their vision come to life.
“It’s very rewarding to see the community come together,” said Andreasen.
**Please note, this story was updated on May 24 to include a statement from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.