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Squamish plan for massive development by Burrard Bridge gets a surprisingly warm welcome

April 14th, 2019 · No Comments

So my big story for the week was the news that the Squamish are moving ahead with plans to create a huge new development by the Burrard Bridge. My story was in the Globe Thursday, with a follow-up including the mayor’s comments on Friday. (I’ll post the full stories below.)

The reaction on often-toxic Twitter was very positive, with people (at least in my stream) very excited about the thought of a lot of new housing in an area where there’s a huge demand, as well as the news that the Squamish are seriously considering making the units all rental.

I’d advise people not to break open the champagne just yet, as some members apparently are arguing in favour of the early money that some condo development would provide. As well, no one is saying what prices the units might rent for yet.

Some people are also dubious about the idea of having Westbank/Ian Gillespie as the partner, given his penchant lately (Vancouver House, Butterfly, Oakridge, Kengo Kuma tower) to build for the ultra high end. He did do the Woodward’s building, granted, with its two social-housing components, but that’s quite different from trying to figure out a market approach to providing affordable rental. CHMC people sound very excited by the project and say there’s money available (cheap financing, etc.) if the Squamish do decide to make some or all of it lower-cost.

In the meantime, the really interesting story behind all this is how the Squamish were slowly pushed off their land, which was a permanent settlement, not just a summer camp for them.

This timeline from UBC provides some excellent information and mapping of what happened over time.

As I said earlier, I’ve posted the full stories below




The Squamish Nation plans a massive housing project encompassing as many as 3,000 apartments on prime land next to a Vancouver city park, marking the first large-scale urban development by an Indigenous group in Canada.

The ambitious project next to the Burrard Bridge and Vanier Park on the False Creek waterfront in central Vancouver would occupy the last of their reserve land in the city. It is likely to spark controversy in the tony Kitsilano neighbourhood nearby, where in recent weeks residents have been protesting the development of a couple of low-rise apartment buildings.

Development of so many apartments, which the Squamish are considering restricting to all rental, could help Vancouver alleviate its housing crisis, but the city does not have jurisdiction over the Squamish land.

As a result, the city will have little legal authority over the project, unlike the relationship the city will have with two other Indigenous-led megaprojects in a more long-term roll out. The Jericho lands in the west and Heather lands in central Vancouver are being developed jointly by the federal government and a consortium of the three local First Nations.

A spokesperson for the City of Vancouver confirmed the city has no zoning or regulatory power over the Squamish proposal, but says it will work with them on services, land use and community context when an application comes in.

Squamish council member Khelsilem, who was authorized to talk about the Squamish project on behalf of the nation, said there have been some informal talks with city officials about the development, but the nation is moving forward with its plans. It has already selected the developer, although Khelsilem would not reveal the company. Nation members are being asked for their approval for the plans in a referendum.

As well, the Squamish has begun talks with the regional district of Metro Vancouver for water and sewer infrastructure.

Khelsilem said his nation wants to do something that benefits Vancouver, but also its 4,000 members. Income or profits will be used to provide Squamish members with needed social services, including housing.

He said the development is also the nation’s chance to radically alter the story about the place the Squamish traditionally called Senakw and about the sliver of land the nation band was reduced to in Vancouver after decades of expropriation and buyouts that forced them to move out of the city to reserves on the North Shore.

“It feels like the beginning of a new era. We want to make a mark of who we are in nation-building,” said the 29-year-old councillor.

Squamish people were affected when their land base in Vancouver – which originally included all of Vanier Park, as well as the land under the Canadian Forces Seaforth Armoury on Burrard – was reduced, affecting their ability to support themselves, he said. For years, people have waited for government assistance to become more self-sufficient. Now, they won’t have to wait.

“This project becomes a way to create that individual and collective wealth,” Khelselim said.

The land is likely worth millions of dollars and with a completed development of 3,000 units, hundreds of millions of dollars.

Khelselim said the initial reaction he’s heard from Squamish members is mostly positive.

“They see all the development happening around them. They’re saying, ‘We own all this land, we should get in the game.’”

Squamish leaders are favouring the idea of building all rental apartments in the project, he said. That’s not decided, though. The development, which could potentially be almost the same size as the Little Mountain housing site in central Vancouver, would also include commercial spaces, public squares and arts spaces, he said.

Khelselim said the council doesn’t want to name the developer partner yet, but that the company was chosen from five proposals after the nation asked 16 local builders to apply.

He did confirm that the Aquilinis, the powerhouse local family-run developers who have developed strong relationships and built projects for both the Tsleil-waututh and Tsawwassen bands, are not the partners.


APRIL 12: The Squamish Nation’s plan to build a massive housing development in the heart of Vancouver is getting the enthusiastic backing of the mayor, even though the city will have little say over how construction proceeds.

The project, which the Squamish have said they hope can begin within five years, will introduce the first high-rises that have been built in Vancouver’s historic Kitsilano neighbourhood, where protests against developers and density in the 1970s prompted a new city council to bar high-rise buildings.

But Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart called the housing project a “very exciting initiative,” and an opportunity for his city to demonstrate its commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous communities. “It’s a city of reconciliation, so this is a good chance to put our money where our mouth is,” Mr. Stewart said. “I’m totally committed to this.”

The neighbourhood has been unenthusiastic about even milder forms of density, with residents protesting against two current proposals for low-rise apartments.

Vancouver has no direct control over what happens, since the land is owned by the 4,000-member Squamish Nation and is not subject to any city zoning or bylaws. The Squamish don’t even need to make formal applications to the city.

The potentially 3,000-unit project on a strip of land just across the water from the city’s downtown will be a partnership between the Squamish and Ian Gillespie of Westbank Developments, one of the most prominent developers in Vancouver, sources close to the proceedings told The Globe and Mail. Mr. Gillespie did not comment.

The development will be built on the remaining chunk of land the Squamish were left with from what was once a permanent settlement called Senakw. White settlers referred to the land as Kitsilano Reserve 6. The land size was gradually reduced, and the last residents were forced to move to the North Shore in 1913. Each family got $11,250 for the move.

In an interview earlier this week, Squamish council member Khelsilem said his nation sees the development as “the beginning of a new era” and a chance to create a new narrative about Senakw. On a practical level, the project will benefit Vancouver, while providing Squamish members with funds for social services, including housing, said Khelsilem, who uses only one name.

On Wednesday, Khelsilem said that after further talks with the project developer, there will be a referendum with members to seek their consent on the project. “The members will have the opportunity to tell us if they support this or not.”

He said that process, expected later this year, will allow for more disclosure on specifics around the project, including initial concepts and density.


The Squamish development will sit on the eastern boundary of a prominent and popular park in Vancouver and will likely require several high-rise buildings to accommodate the density, although no preliminary plans have yet been done with those kinds of details. That could block some views views looking east. The Squamish would not legally be required to abide by any city restrictions on blocking views.

Vancouver housing report shows progress on social housing, lag on low-cost rentals

Vancouver’s Squamish Nation plans massive apartment development for foot of Burrard Bridge

Mr. Stewart had no comment on the density, saying he hasn’t seen a formal plan yet.

Larry Benge, co-chair of the West Kitsilano Residents Association, said it was a challenge to respond to the proposed development because of a lack of details.

“You don’t know whether to get excited or depressed, quite frankly,” Mr. Benge said on Wednesday. “I think my reaction, overall, is wait and see.”

Mr. Benge, who said his only information on the project had come from media reports, said he was concerned about how so many new residents would fit into the area.

“This is a huge project in a fairly tight location,” he said. “But I haven’t seen any plans. I have no idea how far that has gone yet.”

He also said he was curious about how affordable the rent for the new units will be.

Asked about concerns expressed by Mr. Benge about additional details and consultation, Khelsilem said the priority of the Squamish Nation administration is to seek consent from their own members.

“At the same time, we are going to be meeting and engaging with the City of Vancouver to get their input on what kind of process we do in terms of meeting and engaging with the public , the broader public and local residents. We’ll look to the city in terms of what that might look like.”

He noted that the land is under the authority of the Squamish Nation so the city has no authority over it in terms of zoning and bylaws. However, he said the concept of making the project work in the context of surrounding neighborhoods, and city infrastructure, transportation and amenities is a necessary conversation.

“We know the city has the experts to help us put together something that’s going to makes sense for the city, the neighborhoods and the region.”

Still, he noted that the project helps deal with city needs around affordable rental units.

The mayor has been heavily promoting the city’s desire to create more rentals, but neighbourhood opposition has already come from Kitsilano to new apartment projects being developed under a new rental-incentive program.

The mayor said he’s had a couple of informal talks with the Squamish about the development, and his council will get together with the nation’s council for a dinner on Monday, a meeting intended as a getting-to-know-you event, not a land negotiation.

The Squamish are among the most entrepreneurial and business-focused nations in the province. It owns the land the Park Royal shopping mall sits on and collects rent from the operator.

For the Vancouver project, Squamish councillor Khelselim has said the nation is seriously considering making all the units rentals, although a final decision hasn’t been made.

If that were the case, the project would add almost the same amount of rental housing to Vancouver as the city has been able to get from developers in the past five years using incentives.

Mr. Gillespie has been involved in some unique projects throughout the city, notably Woodward’s, where he incorporated two social-housing buildings with market condos and retail, office and university space in the former downtown department store. But he has also become controversial as Vancouver’s real-estate market turned ugly the past few years, because of his high-end projects that he markets in Asia.

The Squamish nation is planning to hold a referendum on the deal.

With a report from Ian Bailey

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