Another precedent-setting Indigenous development is set to transform Vancouver’s far west side, with plans for three towers up to 38 storeys high, as many as 10,000 new homes altogether, and new swaths of park space on what was a no-go piece of land for years.
“This process will unlock the potential of that unbelievable site. We want to make this an amazing community,” said Elisa Campbell, who is leading planning and development at the federal Canada Lands Co., working with the corporation formed by Vancouver’s three primary Indigenous nations, the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.
The city and the partnered developers announced preliminary concepts for the 36-hectare former Department of National Defence base on Monday, spelling out some general ideas about density and the elements of the proposed new community in two options.
Those two options, named “eagle” and “weave,” have different configurations of buildings and routes through the area – the first with walkways along a water feature that runs through the site on an east-west axis, and the second with more north-south connections inside the development and connecting to Jericho Park across the street.
But both have three tall towers – about the same height as Jameson House downtown or Marine Gateway at South Cambie – that are meant to represent three “watchers” or sentinels that are part of Indigenous history in that area, when lookouts would use the high plateau on the western edge to watch out for visitors or invaders.
They are meant to be prominent, signalling the Indigenous presence in the area then and now.
The public, which saw details of the proposals at a virtual meeting Monday night, is being asked for their feedback on the concepts as a whole, and which option they prefer. Once feedback closes Nov. 14, the different parties involved in the project will go back to develop a policy document to be approved by City Council. If that were approved in the spring of 2022, construction could start within three or four years.
Both options will keep about a fifth of the land as park space and incorporate small longhouses, a community centre, childcare, retail and offices, as well as a mix of housing that includes social housing, below-market rental apartments and for-purchase condos. In theory, the new Broadway subway line going from Arbutus to the University of British Columbia would swing over to the big new neighbourhood after Alma and have a stop on the site.
The neighbourhood could accommodate as many as 18,000 new residents. Surrounding West Point Grey’s population in the 2016 census was about 13,000.
The Jericho Lands development is the most westerly of the Indigenous megaprojects and the one that produces the biggest change in density of any of the neighbourhoods with Indigenous projects.
The northwest sector of Vancouver where it will be situated, Point Grey, contains some of the most expensive homes in the region and has had little high-rise development.
Five apartment buildings ranging from nine to 12 storeys on Tenth Avenue near the entrance to UBC were built between 1965 and 1970, before a new council elected in 1972 shut down development of taller buildings in many areas as a response to residents who objected.
One more apartment of 11 storeys was built in 1990 on Highbury immediately to the east of the Jericho Lands. Otherwise, the area is largely single-family homes on large lots and a few older low-rise apartment buildings. A 14-storey rental apartment building at Broadway and Alma, to be built by Westbank, was approved in a contentious hearing last year.
All say the Jericho development will look and feel different from standard private projects.
“We’re really advancing what it means to embed Indigenous values and knowledge. A key highlight is making visible the culture,” said the city’s assistant director of community planning, Neil Hrushowy. “There is a very overt cultural overtone to the design of spaces and cultural places. There is a concept of living in harmony with nature.”
The redevelopment of the site opposite Jericho Beach is the latest big project by local Indigenous groups.
It follows plans for 12 big towers and 6,000 homes on a relatively small piece of Squamish land near Burrard Bridge and for 2,600 new homes on the 8.5 hectares of former RCMP land in central Vancouver that is also being planned by MST Development Corp. (a partnership of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations) and Canada Lands.
In every case, Indigenous groups are saying they plan to hold on to the land and use their projects to make money for their members, and also to provide some solutions to housing problems for their own peoples and for the city at large.
“MSTDC has a commitment for all forms of housing,” said Brennan Cook, vice-president at the corporation. The private developer or developers who will carry out the future building hasn’t been chosen yet, although Aquilini Development has had close ties with local Indigenous bands and nations in the past, especially the Tsleil-Waututh.
Unlike the Senakw development being planned by Squamish Nation near Burrard Bridge, which is exempt from city zoning and permitting processes because it is reserve land, the Jericho Lands development is required to comply with all city policies.
One city policy is that a minimum of 20-per-cent social housing and another 10 per cent in rental housing must be included in the site.
But everyone involved said they are hoping those percentages can be increased if layers of provincial and federal funding can be added to reduce costs and make it possible to provide more apartments at below-the-usual market costs.
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