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Point Grey residents concerned about future of Jericho Lands

Public meeting April 29

Provincial government talks regarding the potential sale of its 38.4-acre portion of the Jericho Lands promises to be a hot topic at West Point Grey Residents Association’s April 29 public meeting.

The meeting was initially arranged to focus on the Department of National Defense property — the 52-acre parcel of Jericho Lands that the federal government sold for development in October.

But WPGRA spokesperson Phyllis Tyers said now both sites will be discussed at the meeting.

“It was supposed to be focused on the DND portion, but I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of questions regarding the province now,” she said, adding that the association is concerned the province will sell the land without public consultation.

Last fall, it was revealed that three First Nations — Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh — partnered with Canada Lands, a federal Crown corporation, to acquire the 52-acre part of the site. The federal government sold the land, which sits between West Fourth Avenue and Highbury Street to the east and Eighth Avenue to the south, for $237 million.

The provincial government portion of Jericho Lands 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.

Word of exploratory talks taking place between the provincial government and First Nations emerged in a Global News piece in December.

Vancouver-Point Grey MLA David Eby asked the government on April 15 about its talks with First Nations, a potential sale, and whether there would be public consultation beforehand.

Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, responded to Eby by saying that more formal talks had indeed begun.

“I can confirm to the member from Vancouver-Point Grey that in recent months we have begun to engage in more formal discussions and we won’t certainly pre-judge the outcomes of these discussions. We’re certainly interested in what they have to say and what opportunity is presented and First Nations are certainly noted and we’re happy to explore the opportunity with First Nations should an offer eventually materialize,” Virk said.

When Eby further pressed Virk on whether the ministry will consult with the community before disposing of the land, Virk said: “As the member may very well know, local government is indeed responsible for all land use decisions and will certainly employ all different ordinates and bylaws and processes they have. And that’s when the extensive community consultations would occur.”

In an email to the Courier Friday, the provincial ministry reiterated that the government had begun more formal discussions with First Nations in recent months to “explore potential opportunities.”

“Ministry staff are in regular contact with the local First Nations and have built a good relationship,” the unattributed email stated. “We have a legal duty to consult with First Nations when selling Crown owned land, and this is an obligation that we are committed to completing before any further process begins.”

Eby is speaking at the WPGRA meeting next week and he plans to encourage residents to pressure the government for consultation.

“Canada Lands will be presenting what their intent is with respect to community consultations [for the 52-acre portion], so that will be a big part of the conversation… Then from my side, it will be really a call to action that people get in touch with the provincial government however they can — and because it’s Point Grey, there are lots of people with direct connections to the government that are outside the usual [means] — and say, ‘Look, don’t sell this incredibly strategic and important piece of property without talking to the community,’” he said.

“I’m worried they’re moving really quickly given that they were in early talks at the time of the Global article and now they’re in formal discussions. The federal half went really quickly once their discussions started after the transfer to the Canada Lands corporation and I think it’s quite easy for the province to match the deal that the feds gave — there may be less negotiations than there was a year ago.”

Robert Howald will be the featured speaker from Canada Lands at the WPGRA meeting. Howald could not be reached by the Courier on Friday.

Brian Jackson, the City of Vancouver's head planner, told the Courier that Canada Lands is in the process of hiring staff and consultants to begin working with the city on both the Jericho Lands and the RCMP site near Cambie Street, which was part of the land deal last fall.  Canada Lands told the city they would likely be ready to start discussions about process in May.

"We had one meeting with provincial government staff to outline the planning process we anticipate for the Canada Lands portion of the Jericho lands. That was it," Jackson added.

"We committed to representatives of the communities that surround both properties that as soon as Canada Lands was ready and we were writing a report to council setting up policy statement processes for both — like Pearson Dogwood, the Oakridge bus barns site and Langara Gardens — we would be in touch to get their input before putting reports forward to council."

The West Point Grey Residents Association public meeting runs from 7 to 9 p.m., April 29, at Jericho Hill Gymnasium.