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British Columbia First Nations bands to pay millions for provincial portion of Jericho Lands

The Jericho Lands, a 15.7-hectare parcel of land formerly owned by the Department of National Defence, is seen in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday April 8, 2016.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Vancouver's three First Nations bands have agreed to pay $480-million for the provincial portion of the city's Jericho Lands, clearing the way for a major redevelopment on this prime west-side tract.

The agreement also signals another significant step forward for the province and First Nations in figuring out how to compromise on local First Nations land claims.

The agreement is not the ideal, says Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow. His band is one of the three partners, along with the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.

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But it's the most practical, because it avoids years of court battles over whether or how much First Nations should have to pay for land they have claimed is theirs.

"We not happy with [having to pay $480-million]," Mr. Sparrow said. "We still believe those Crown-held lands were taken from us. But we have to move forward as a community."

The high price means the Musqueam, at least, will be focused on getting maximum revenue out of the land. Mr. Sparrow said that's desperately needed to help Musqueam band members with housing, job programs and more.

"It's to create revenue and wealth for this generation and the next generation," he said.

It also means that First Nations are not about to give away anything to help the city achieve its goal of developing some low-cost housing in the future development.

"I don't want our land that we paid prime dollars for to be used as affordable-housing land," Mr. Sparrow said.

But he also spelled out that doesn't mean the bands will be pushing to build massive towers, as he said that NDP MLA David Eby, who represents Vancouver-Point Grey, has suggested.

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"I don't want him putting speculation out there and dividing the community," he said.

The agreement now clears the way for development planning to start on the whole site.

The federal land is currently zoned for single-family houses, while the provincial part is zoned as a "comprehensive development zone," which means a mix of uses could go in.

The city's assistant director of planning for the area, Kent Munro, said the municipality has no set plan for the area, although it's unlikely to be a single-family zone. "Given what we know about the demands on land in the city, it's safe to assume this will be a mixed community."

He said planning will start when the owners indicate they are ready to start, which they hadn't to date.

Mr. Sparrow said the group hasn't chosen a development partner yet, although Aquilini Development is working with two of the bands on developing another piece of Vancouver property.

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The agreement with the Jericho Lands is the highest-value agreement the province and local First Nations have come to as they work through claims on many parcels of government-held land.

Liberal MLA Andrew Wilkinson, who represents the city's other major west-side riding, Vancouver-Quilchena, said the province had commercial appraisers value the 15.6-hectare portion of the site the province owns. The two appraisers put the value at $558-million and $560-million.

The province took $96-million off the bill as an "accommodation" for the claims, but added in costs for the property-transfer tax. The $480-million net purchase price works out to $30.8-million a hectare.

Mr. Wilkinson called the agreement "a very positive step – a reconciliation for the three First Nations and a chance for everyone to share in the prosperity."

The three bands came together two years ago to buy the adjoining 21 hectares of federal land, currently used as a military base, with the Canada Lands Company for $257-million.

Since the late 1980s, the city has required any mega-project developer to set aside 20 per cent of land for affordable housing.

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In the early years, the actual housing construction was paid for by the federal and provincial governments.

That help ended when Ottawa killed its social-housing program in 1994 and when the new B.C. Liberal government downsized its social-housing program in housing program in 2001.

Since then, the city has struggled to maintain that objective.

Councillor Raymond Louie said the city will be pressing the new federal government to help out, as well as asking the province to reinvest some of the $480-million it is getting in the deal.

But Mr. Wilkinson said that money will be going into general revenue and that any housing support between the city and province will have to be worked out through negotiations with BC Housing.

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