Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver here.
The historic Burrard Bridge provides the west side of the city with its link into downtown Vancouver, but it’s never been a particularly picturesque gateway: The hulking, industrial Molson Brewery building is on one side and an aging apartment building in the shape of a fidget spinner and surrounded by mature trees is on the other.
The area is about to undergo a decade-long transformation that’s significant in its size, but particularly in the unprecedented way in which it will come together.
The land under the Molson Brewery site is now owned by Concord Pacific and is zoned industrial. The development company has plans for constructing an office building with some so-called “workforce” housing. Any chance the city would allow the developer to build more housing is subject to a review that is currently underway. Any new project would have to undergo the usual horse-trading with the city, with civic officials demanding the developer contribute amenities such as affordable housing, park space or even childcare spaces in exchange for more density.
Not so with the project across the street.
Frances Bula reported exclusively this week the project proposal has doubled in size. It is now expected to include 6,000 units over 11 towers. It would be one of the largest private First Nations investment projects in the country, expected by the Squamish to be in the billions of dollars, and turn the First Nation into a major developer in Vancouver’s lucrative housing market.
The units in the project, which must yet be approved by Squamish Nation members next month, will be mostly rentals. Mayor Kennedy Stewart has made the development of more rental units a key mission for the city, but these won’t necessarily fit into his plan. Unlike other projects which must ensure 20 per cent of new units are affordable, the city cannot force that requirement here because the development is being built on Squamish reserve land. The Squamish say their priority is maximizing profits for their members and while some of the units may be designated affordable, those will be dedicated for rent by Squamish members.
Likewise, the city has no control over the density in the project or the height: The tallest structure is planned at 56 storeys, which is as tall as a new one being built further downtown but is far and away taller than anything in the neighbourhood of this development. In order to lower construction costs for underground parking, the current plan is to have only about 10 per cent of the apartments with parking available, far below the usual minimum. And the city’s preference for the configuration of the buildings also won’t apply.
The mayor acknowledged Tuesday the project is out of his hands, telling reporters: “The only real say we have is on the service agreement.” The area currently is mostly scrub land and sits next to a manicured park on one side and the bridge on the other. It will require a new network of water and sewer infrastructure and it will need policing, fire and garbage services, among other things.
So far, there has been little vocal opposition to the project, though one city councillor said the city’s inability to have any say is concerning.
But Khelsilem, a spokesman for the Squamish Nation, is unapologetic.
“The reasonable expectation my people have is they’ve seen this whole city built up around them with very little benefit. Now they are wanting us to go this far,” said Khelsilem, who uses one name.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West
UCP LEADERSHIP: A Calgary businessman has been fined for allegations that he provided $60,000 to failed United Conservative Party leadership candidate Jeff Callaway, who then used that money to fund straw donations. The fines against Robyn Lore bring the total number of fines linked to the so-called “kamikaze candidate” to more than $200,000. Mr. Callaway has denied any wrongdoing.
SASKATCHEWAN DEBT: Saskatchewan households are falling behind on debt payments – both for mortgages and other loans – to a greater degree than the rest of the country. Matt Lundy took a dive into the data to explore why people in the province are showing signs of mounting financial distress.
OLD GROWTH FORESTS: The B.C. government is under pressure to do more to protect the province’s old-growth forest, as logging continues even as the province launches another round of talks on the issue.
AIRBNB: The B.C. government says it collected almost $34-million in taxes from Airbnb in the last year, in one of the only provinces in Canada where the service is taxed. That total is more than double the revenue projected when the unique taxation program to fund affordable housing was launched last year.
HOUSING: Vancouver’s real-estate market is picking up steam, with sales increasing by 45 per cent last month, compared to a year earlier. The increase comes after a year of sluggish sales in what remains one of Canada’s priciest housing markets.
CHINA EXPORTS: China has ended its ban on imports of Canadian beef and pork, after those industries became caught in an international dispute linked to the arrest of a senior Huawei executive last December. Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen says it’s welcomed news, though he notes canola producers are still shut out of China so it’s not “mission accomplished” yet.
CRYPTOCURRENCY: A B.C. court has placed a Vancouver-based cryptocurrency trading platform into receivership. The B.C. Securities Commission, which applied for the receivership, says Einstein Exchange owes its customers more than $16-million.
ENCANA: Calgary-based Encana’s decision to move its headquarters to the United States means that it would no longer require Canadian approval if a foreign company attempted to buy it later on. Lawyers say a side effect of the move would be that a foreign takeover would not face a review under the Investment Canada Act.
ALBERTA OIL: Prices for Alberta crude have fallen in the wake of the Keystone pipeline spill, as the discount Canadian crude receives compared with U.S. prices reaches its widest level since late last year.
FEDERAL CABINET: Newly re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is preparing to appoint a new cabinet, which is expected to focus heavily on the green economy and climate change, while also attempting to allay concerns about Western representation.
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on Encana: “Blaming Encana’s failures on Ottawa is inaccurate and unfair. Its decline, and the decision to move its head office, stem from poor choices made in a Calgary boardroom a decade ago.”
André Picard on Alberta doctors’ contracts: “The bottom line for governments, in Alberta and elsewhere, is that if you don’t like the contracts you have signed with doctors, then negotiate new ones, no matter how hard it is.”
Gary Mason on UNDRIP: “However, I think we all know that the rights imbued in the UN doctrine will at least give First Nations more ammunition. And that ammunition will be used to leverage their power even more. Ultimately, that power will be tested in court.”