Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Kitsilano residents file court actions over social housing tower and Squamish Nation project

First Nations Leadership Council calls legal action regarding Sen̓áḵw a ‘political stunt’
A rendering of a 13-storey tower containing 129 social housing units for a city-owned site that runs between Seventh and Eighth avenues at Arbutus Street. City council approved the project in July.

In the space of six days, two Kitsilano associations have filed petitions in B.C. Supreme Court in separate actions related to a social housing tower approved by city council in July and a services agreement signed in May by the City of Vancouver and the Squamish Nation.

The most recent filing was made Wednesday (Oct. 12) by the Kitsilano Coalition, which is seeking a judicial review of council’s 8-3 decision July 26 to approve a 129-unit social housing tower on a piece of city property in Kitsilano.

Six days earlier on Oct. 5, the Kits Point Residents Association filed a petition that seeks a judicial review of the council-approved services agreement reached May 25 with the Squamish Nation related to the 10.5-acre Sen̓áḵw real estate development adjacent to the Burrard Bridge.

In the case of the 13-storey tower, the coalition’s argument is with the public hearing process, restrictions on questions during the hearing and concerns that not enough information was released by the city regarding the project, which is being done in partnership with BC Housing.

“Both council and the public were thus deprived of key information about the rezoning application from the outset, impairing the ability of community members to make informed submissions to council, and for council in turn to make an informed decision,” said Karen Finnan, a spokesperson for the coalition, in a news release.

'Not released to the public'

In addition, Finnan said, throughout the public hearing, there were repeated references by BC Housing representatives, city staff and council to a Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] between Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, BC Housing, and the city.

“The MOU was clearly the foundation of the rezoning application, but it was not released to the public,” said Finnan, noting the petition seeks to quash the decision made at the public hearing and have the rezoning proposal submitted again for a hearing.

The tower in question will cost $64 million to build and city staff said it will provide homes for a mix of homeless people and low-income residents. The vacant city-owned site is between Seventh and Eighth avenues at Arbutus Street.

The project was fraught with controversy, with close to 300 people registered to speak to council over several days and nights of the hearing, with one councillor estimating 75 per cent opposed the project.

Homelessness, addiction

While concerns from many people were related to housing homeless people living with mental health and drug use challenges in the neighbourhood, the scale of the project was another reason cited by detractors of the project.

The coalition, which was formed to oppose the project, launched a months-long campaign via regular news releases that featured area residents, a university professor and a prominent retired judge who once presided over a court that aimed to steer petty criminals from addiction.

On the last night of the hearing, coalition member Cheryl Grant spoke to council and included a video complete with a three-dimensional alternative proposal to the project that would support a mix of people, including women, children, seniors and people living with a disability.

“This model also integrates the system of bringing in people who are experiencing homelessness, but it's on a smaller percentage,” Grant said of the five-storey design. “So that's really what we're focused on is how do you build housing that makes sense for the community.”

A member of the city’s communications staff said in an email Thursday that “we can confirm that the city has received a legal petition from Kits Coalition. We are reviewing the materials and will respond in due course.”

The Squamish Nation plans to build more than 6,000 rental units on its property at the south end of the Burrard Bridge. Image courtesy Revery Architecture

'Concerned about its size'

Meanwhile, the petition regarding the Squamish Nation’s Sen̓áḵw development is centred around negotiations of the services agreement without input from area residents.

The Kits Point Residents Association wants a judge to quash the agreement.

“While the association has been supportive of the Nation’s intention to develop the lands since the initial 2019 proposal was first announced, it has been very concerned about the proposed scale and lack of information about the project,” the petition reads.

“Specifically, it is concerned about its size, density, heights of towers and the impact it will have on [the] neighbouring residential area, including on traffic, infrastructure and the use of Vanier Park.”

The Squamish Nation plans to build 6,077 rental homes on the 10.5-acre site, with approximately 1,200 of the units considered “affordable,” according to information posted on a website dedicated to the Sen̓áḵw project.

The Squamish says the land has always been part of the nation’s unceded territory, but its people were forcibly removed in 1913 when the land was annexed by the City of Vancouver.

A court decision in 2003 returned a portion of Sen̓áḵw to the Squamish people.

'Aggressive and objectionable action'

The First Nations Leadership Council issued a statement shortly after the residents’ association announced that it filed a petition, calling it a political stunt and “an aggressive and objectionable action to reject the path-breaking and needed Sen̓áḵw development.” 

“The nation fought for decades for justice for the forced removal of their people from their territory without their consent,” the leadership council said Oct. 7.

“They have won and reclaimed a small portion of their traditional territories and invested years of efforts in a design and development that will serve all citizens of Vancouver well.”

Added the council: “Efforts to derail this important project, one of largest development projects for a First Nation ever in Canada, is insulting and tone deaf to the reconciliation agenda. A few residents did not get their way, and now they oppose a positive and progressive project.” 

[email protected]