Major developments in Vancouver normally generate tens of millions of dollars’ worth of amenities for the community, including affordable housing. But the city will have almost no leverage to get any of that from a massive new project planned by the Squamish Nation.
The 11-tower project, which has doubled in size since it was first proposed, will dramatically alter a swath of Vancouver’s downtown waterfront.
The project is to have 6,000 mostly rental units and is planned in partnership with Vancouver developer Ian Gillespie of Westbank Corp. Any other project like it would typically generate an automatic requirement for 20 per cent of the units to be affordable, along with other amenities such as child-care buildings, heritage and social programs.
But Mayor Kennedy Stewart said repeatedly Tuesday that the city has little power to ask for anything like that.
“The only real say we have is on the [infrastructure] service agreement,” said the mayor, who stressed that he is 100-per-cent supportive of the development and believes it will help with the city’s efforts at reconciliation with First Nations groups.
“There’s a constitutional issue here because those are reserve lands and they are not subject to city processes.”
When the former 1986 Expo lands were being planned for development in the 1990s, former mayor Gordon Campbell introduced a policy requiring developers to contribute amenities for the whole community in exchange for getting significant density and, therefore, condo space to sell.
The current plan, reported by The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, for the Senakw project by the Squamish makes it potentially the densest development in Metro Vancouver, at 1,277 units per hectare. Condo towers in the most dense section of downtown – the 1300-block Richards, 900- and 1000-block Seymour – come in at 1,058 and 833 per hectare, respectively.
But because this development is taking place on Squamish reserve lands, the city’s only negotiating tool is its control of the significant new services that will be needed in the area – water, sewer, roads, police and fire protection. Currently, the land is little-used, sitting next to Vanier Park on Kitsilano Point.
In comparison, when Mr. Gillespie got approval for a massive condo project at the Oakridge Centre mall that he is developing with QuadReal Property Group, the team was asked to provide about $148.8-million in community amenities, including 290 units of social housing, a nine-acre park and a 100,000-square-foot civic centre that will include a seniors’ centre, library and child-care space. As well, they had to provide another 290 units of market rental housing.
On Tuesday, Mr. Stewart said the huge increase in rental supply from the Squamish project will benefit the city.
However, the city cannot impose any requirements about the type or cost of the housing.
Mr. Stewart said he had early discussions with Squamish members about the possibility of some lower-cost housing in the project. But those speaking for the nation have made it clear that it’s not the responsibility of the Squamish to provide subsidies for Vancouver residents’ housing.
Khelsilem, the Squamish Nation councillor who has been the main spokesperson for the project, said the planning team at the council is considering how to provide some below-market apartments for Squamish members.
The inability of the city to have much control over the project is concerning to at least one city councillor.
While some, such as OneCity’s Christine Boyle, say the nation has the right to do whatever it wants with its own land, Non-Partisan Association Councillor Colleen Hardwick said it’s concerning there is no ability to impose any rules.
“There’s no oversight. I have big concerns about that,” said Ms. Hardwick, who called the project oversized, over-the-top and “inconsistent with the values of a livable city.”
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