A prime piece of Vancouver land that has been a no-trespassing zone for almost 100 years is about to be transformed as the city's First Nations groups tackle their first joint development project.
The former regional RCMP headquarters at 33rd Avenue and Heather Street sits on a rise of land with spectacular views of the North Shore mountains. The Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh – which own the site jointly with the federal Crown agency Canada Lands Company – and city planners are about to begin consultations on redevelopment of the site.
Based on what has been approved on large tracts of land nearby, hundreds of housing units and a cluster of community benefits will likely be built on the 8.5-hectare site. A smaller parcel, the site of the former Little Mountain social housing, was recently approved for 1,600 units.
"We really want to do this right and work with the surrounding communities," said Chris Lewis, a councillor with the Squamish Nation who is also on the project's management board.
And the bands want it to be distinctive.
"Absolutely, when you look at it, you'll know there's a First Nations influence, maybe sloped roofs or some public art to signal that it is First Nations," Mr. Lewis said.
The site, assessed at $107-million, will be the first that the region's three First Nations have developed together. The bands also jointly own the Jericho Lands in Kitsilano, the former provincial liquor-distribution warehouse near Broadway and Rupert Street, and a small parcel in West Vancouver.
"It's historical that the three are working together," Mr. Lewis said.
A heritage building on the site will be preserved, everyone involved says.
The one-time Langara School for Boys, a Tudor Revival-style building first occupied in 1914, became the military Fairmont Hospital in 1917 and then the RCMP headquarters for the Pacific region in 1920.
What still has to be negotiated is what will happen with the rest of the land, which sits between Van Dusen Garden on Oak Street and Queen Elizabeth Park on Cambie Street.
Vancouver policy on large sites requires at least 20 per cent of the housing to be "affordable" and that community benefits – from parks to daycares to community centres to cultural spaces – be provided.
It is not clear yet whether that 20 per cent could be increased because of new money for housing the federal government has promised, said Susan Haid, assistant director of planning for the city's southern sector.
Mr. Lewis and Deana Grinnell of Canada Lands said the project might incorporate some housing for members of the three First Nations, which have extensive waiting lists on their reserves.
The goals for the project also emphasize that it should reflect the past, enhance the natural features of the land, accommodate a range of housing, and "welcome all people and connect cultures."
The development appears to be generating less public angst than the joint Canada Lands, First Nations, and provincial plans for the Jericho Lands. Residents there are worried about the possibility of towers and massive density.
The long-time community group for the Riley Park-South Cambie area "acknowledge that the vision indicated this is a large site for development," Ms. Haid said. The area has also already seen significant change, as Cambie Street, a block away, undergoes massive rezoning and redevelopment.
Ms. Grinnell said people who have contacted her office have been less vocal about the density and more excited about the possibility of getting access to the land and historic building again, which had been off limits during the 93 years the RCMP was there.
"This has been unavailable to the public and this will be a treasure."
The First Nations-Canada Lands open house will be held at the headquarters building on Saturday at 12:15 p.m. The city is planning open houses on Oct. 15 and Oct. 17 to outline its expectations for the property and the plan for public consultation.