It's a proposal that has garnered some strange early reaction, and low-key murmurs from the Vancouver Mayor's office. The Squamish First Nations band as many know own the land outright around key areas of Metro Vancouver, with many others tied up in settlement negotiations. Of particular interest is the area at the south end of the Burrard Bridge, which the band is now indicating they wish to develop.
Perhaps it's my tendency to be a "glass half-full" optimist, but my impression of the Squamish band proposal is potentially very positive for the city. Those familiar with the area know that the immediate land is mostly undeveloped – lots of blackberry bushes and parking lots adjacent. In fact, few areas near the downtown core (with the exception of False Creek Flats and NE False Creek) have so little undeveloped space.
For example the Molson Brewery is bounded by a vast parking lot. Beside it is the empty plaza behind Seaforth Armory. Just to the west bordering in Kits Point there is another huge parking lot next to the Vancouver Museum. There are already some multi-story commercial and residential developments beside the land, including the famous three-sided apartment tower once owned by Vancouver Mayor Tom Campbell.
In order to increase the density of this land – and I welcome this happening – some consideration to improving transportation connections should be made for the development to succeed. This is why when I heard about the Squamish proposal I was immediately struck by the opportunity it presents in regard to Vancouver's Olympic Line streetcar.
The streetcar line right of way goes directly from the restored track at the Olympic Village Canada Line station, along beside Granville Island. The old CP railway bed reaches right up to the Molson Brewery property. By bringing on the Squamish band as a non-government partner a deal might be struck to help finance the development of the line.
The Vancouver Sun, who have posted renderings like the one above of the development, are certainly following-up the story of this development, which was broken on Monday by 24 Hours ace reporter Bob Mackin. The story was followed up on Wednesday by the Vancouver Courier's Mike Howell. I was, however, one of many people shocked by the tone of columnist Miro Cernetig's inflammatory column from Thursday.
Cernetig gives readers the impression that because the Squamish band have rights to the land outside Vancouver's planning authority that they'll be likely to abuse that privilege:
That's because the Squamish are proposing to build on their reserve land, once the site of a fishing village, which is owned by them and under federal jurisdiction. It means the first nation has no legal obligation to obey municipal zoning laws that other developers are obliged to follow when they build within the city.
Are we really that worried that the First Nations bands in our midst are just going to run roughshod over our conventions? It's not as though they're building a longhouse. These are sophisticated business people who are hiring qualified developers, architects and engineers. But Miro strikes a tone of fear in his rhetoric:
If we want Metro Vancouver to remain one of the best cities in the world to live in, we need careful planning on all new developments, whoever is building them. They need to be carefully integrated into a master planning process for the city, looking at such things as public transit access, appropriate density of new construction and even the amount of money spent on green initiatives from roof gardens to places to plug-in electrical cars.
What we have here, however, is a major development where none of those prudent, urban-planning principles necessarily apply.
Dear me. The "natives" might not give us our plug-ins for electric cars and our rooftop vegetable patches? I'm not sure how he arrived at this gloomy conclusion, but it sure makes you think that someone's been spending more face time with Gregor than he'd like to admit.
For my part, I think that in spite of the fact the Squamish band will not be obligated by the need to provide cost levies and invest in City amenities, a wise approach would be to explore the idea. The band stands to profit mightily from this development if it succeeds. The streetcar line might be a feature which could bring them a lot more success, which is why they might be persuaded to help link the Skytrain and Canada Line with their development by rail.
This is precisely the kind of partnership the City of Vancouver should be exploring, then approaching the Province and Feds about.
- post by Mike