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First Nations announce intention to buy provincial Jericho Lands

NDP MLA David Eby calls for consultation before final sale
jericho lands
Photo Dan Toulgoet

Three Lower Mainland First Nations have announced their intention to buy the 38.4-acre provincial portion of the Jericho Lands on Vancouver’s West Side.

The government of B.C. has accepted a Letter of Intent from the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services, Feb. 12.

The Letter of Intent means the First Nations can begin consultations with their communities to develop a sales agreement. If a sales agreement is reached, consultation between the First Nations and the City of Vancouver about developing the land could begin.

The news comes less than two years after the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations partnered with a federal Crown corporation, in October of 2014, to acquire the 52-acre federal portion of the Jericho Lands, which sits between West Fourth Avenue and Highbury Street to the east and Eighth Avenue to the south.

The provincial portion is located immediately to the west and stretches to Discovery Street. It currently houses Vancouver Parks Board facilities — the Jericho Hill Centre and the Jericho Hill Gym and Pool, as well as West Point Grey Academy. These leases run until 2020.

Planning for any future development on the two parcels would be done at the same time to allow for a cohesive plan, according to the government’s press release.

“Any and all rezoning and development plans will follow the mandated consultation process established by the City of Vancouver,” the release states. “Any final sales agreement with the First Nations would be based on fair market value for the land as determined by independent appraisals. Releasing these lands for potential development could help improve housing supply in Vancouver by increasing available land for development.”

Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation, Citizens' Services, states in the press release that the potential sale and transfer of the lands to First Nations is “a further step towards reconciling the First Nations' interests in respect of rights and title to the traditional territories and confirms the settlement of all of the Nations' claims to the Jericho lands. Obtaining stewardship of the lands represents a significant economic development opportunity for First Nations and the potential sale of these lands will create construction and ongoing jobs due to redevelopment."

Andrew Wilkinson, MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, is quoted as saying he’s “confident” that if a final sales agreement is signed, the First Nations will embark on “meaningful consultation” and that the community will be able to provide their input on the development of the entire parcel of land.

David Eby, MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, said he’d like to see community consultation take place before a sales agreement is signed for the provincial portion of the Jericho Lands. He said it’s not clear to him that that will happen.

“[The Letter of Intent] is a necessary step for the First Nations to get the consent of their communities to make this kind of investment… I’m nervous this means the province is walking away from previous commitments that were made by Andrew Wilkinson to consult the community before the final decisions were made,” Eby told the Courier in a phone interview.

Eby said he’s encouraging the province to follow the model set out by the federal government, which he said features community consultation before going to the City of Vancouver and includes collecting feedback about what the community wants, what amenities should be on the land and what priorities should be considered before a rezoning application is filed.

“I think that the federal government model is much better where there is a joint effort between government and First Nations to ensure that all community concerns are addressed before the property is sold,” he said. “The reason for that is quite simple — if the provincial government has obligations either constitutionally to the French school board to build a school on the West Side of the city or if the community will only tolerate certain levels of density on site, and the city won’t approve anything beyond that, then the property’s value changes."

Eby said you don't do the consultation afterwards — you find out what the social license on the site is and what are priorities for the community, to determine the property's worth for a fair settlement with First Nations.

"Otherwise, you’re really expecting the First Nations to take on this huge responsibility of appeasing a lot of different community concerns,” he said.

Community interest in the future development of the Jericho Lands has been significant. Public meetings have attracted large audiences, including a recent West Point Grey Community Association meeting that Eby attended and spoke at in early February.

“There hasn’t been a meeting about the Jericho Lands that hasn’t filled up an entire room of concerned citizens and I expect that to continue to be the case,” said Eby, who added he’d like to see a significant affordable housing component on the land, while the francophone community would like to see a school on the West Side, as mandated by a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision, and many resident would like to see the community centre replaced.

“So there are a number of different competing interests that need to be reconciled here and that all can be, I think, accommodated in a particularly spectacular and interesting way, but only if everybody is working together,” he said.

A spokesperson from the West Point Grey Residents’ Association, said the group is not prepared to comment yet because it has no specific details about the potential sale.

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