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Mountain bike trails lead new head of Salmon Arm’s planning department to city job

He has experienced prairies, mountains and the coast, now he’s looking forward to lake living
Gary Buxton, the new City of Salmon Arm Director of Planning and Community Services, is looking forward to getting to know the community better. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Mountain biking helped lure the city’s new director of planning to Salmon Arm.

Gary Buxton, officially the city’s Director of Planning and Community Services, was familiar with the community before applying for his new job, thanks to the Salty Dog Enduro.

He and his spouse came to Salmon Arm’s popular mountain-biking race seven or eight times when they lived in Canmore, Alta. He participated every time, she about four. They love biking.

Then they moved to Squamish about eight years ago.

Buxton described his last eight years in Squamish as “incredibly busy” with the community growing by leaps and bounds. He said although he’s been in land-use planning and related positions in municipal government for 25 years, the Salmon Arm job offered a challenge that’s a little different.

“I don’t want to move to any community just to get a job, I want to go work in a community that interests me,” he added.

He and his wife are looking forward to “lake life and Interior life.” He suspects they’ll take up kayaking.

“We’re not motor-boat people. I’m not good with things with engines,” he smiled.

In Squamish, Buxton’s job was general manager so he also oversaw the engineering and public works department.

The position in Salmon Arm is slightly different than it was when it was called the Director of Development Services. Along with planning, building and bylaws, emergency management and social well-being will be part of his portfolio.

Regarding social well-being, he said it’s liaising with non-profits and social services.

“So my portfolio has shifted at the margins, but the planning is my core. I’m a registered professional planner so that’s my core practice.”

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Asked about his passions in terms of planning, Buxton said it’s not his job to do what he wants; his job is figuring out how to help the community, and council will do what the council and community wants to do. He said he will use the best planning tools to do that.

He pointed to an empty cardboard box labelled OCP (official community plan).

“I’m going to get my marching orders from a planning point of view largely from that document… That’s going to consume a fair amount of my time over the next two years,” he said.

In Squamish, Buxton’s position also included the environment and climate change portfolios, so he is familiar with those areas.

He has also been “sort of the affordable housing department,” with a background in housing policy and planning. He sees affordable housing ownership is an issue in town.

“Not as severe as in the past two communities where real estate was outrageous, stupidly expensive. It’s just ridiculously expensive here,” he said.

He’s also been told rentals are difficult.

“So there are planning tools we can pick up and use to encourage the rental market,” he said, adding he’s encouraged it’s not as bad as the previous places he’s lived.

Buxton was born in England, met his wife in London and came to Canada in 1988.

They just purchased a house in the community, thanks to equity coming from a more expensive housing market. Their kids live in Edmonton and are married with children.

He expects he’ll be getting to know the bike shop in Salmon Arm.

“I sold my fat bike when I moved to Squamish and now I’m wondering if I need to get another one. I had a fat bike in Canmore but everyone told me it never snows in Squamish. And every year we were there it snowed and the snow would be around for a month.”

“My next car might be an electric bike,” he added. “I timed it last night – it’s an eight-minute ride from my new home to city hall.”

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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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