The Squamish Nation’s plan for a housing project with some 3,000 units on land adjacent to the Burrard Bridge and Vanier Park is destined to be one of the most interesting examples in the debate over the needs of future residents and that of existing residents.
“I think there is going to be an important conversation about what kind of housing we are going to build for the city,” said Khelselim, a Squamish council member. “What do local residents need against the future of people who need homes, young people and young families?”
He was commenting on protests by some Kitsilano residents against a rezoning application to build a much more modest density in the neighbourhood: a five-storey apartment with 63 units, described by some as a “monstrosity.”
The Squamish Nation project on the eastern edge of the Kitsilano neighbourhood will be unique in that, considering the scale and location, City Hall will have no power to regulate what is built because it is on reserve lands.
The nearest neighbours include the Molson brewery, a highrise apartment building at the corner of Burrard Street and Cornwall Avenue, and a series of condo buildings that average about 10 storeys in height between the bridge and Granville Island.
“This is what reconciliation looks like,” Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said. “The prospect of new rental units in our city is exciting, as is the opportunity for the Squamish Nation to further strengthen their community. I’m looking forward to talking government to government as this plan moves forward.”
There are two other major real estate projects in Vancouver in planning that involve First Nation groups: the 90-acre Jericho Lands in West Point Grey and a plan for 2,500 homes on 21 acres at the Heather Land in the Cambie Corridor.
This much smaller Squamish Nation site is located south of Kits Point in a t-shape that touches Arbutus Street, includes the area around the south end of the Burrard Bridge and stretches down with land in from the south False Creek waterfront, west of Granville Bridge.
“It’s been a very important place for our people for thousands of years,” Khelsilem said of the Burrard Bridge property. He said Squamish elders talk about having a much more land here before forced buyouts and expropriations.
The Squamish council is not naming the developer partner yet. Aside from the approximate number of units, it’s not known the extent to which other details, such as the total number, size and exact location of buildings, commercial spaces and public areas, have been proposed for nation members to consider.
Khelsilem said the response from nation members has been “quite positive and supportive in terms of the project and for the Squamish Nation as a regional player and what we need to do for our people.”
The next step is to seek approval in a referendum. Further details will not be disclosed until business arrangements and other terms are settled in a process that will take around six months, according to Khelsilem.
To imagine 3,000 dwellings compressed onto this T-shaped space, Aaron Licker, a geospatial consultant, used census data to compare its size to the lower density areas of Kitsilano holding 3,000 dwellings. It’s a large rectangular chunk compared to the Squamish Nation’s tiny sliver and suggests that much higher heights will be required under the Squamish proposal.
Licker said: “Good or bad, it’s not for me to say, but it’s interesting to ask: ‘Is it that we are housing so inefficiently now? Or is this just crazy density right by Burrard Bridge? Kits is super-duper topical right now.”
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