Could the Squamish band's Burrard plan secure our streetcar?

Post by Mike Klassen in


Burrard Bridge development design concepts courtesy Vancouver Sun

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


If city servicing will be sought by the band along with municipal road access to the development then certainly there is room for negotiation. Perhaps there could be some trade offs here. Residents and commercial would greatly benefit from having both road and streetcar access. An excellent idea.

My only concern:

There is a large tree close to Vanier Park and the 'coast guard' building that is home to a pair of nesting bald eagles.

They and/or their offspring have been back to that nest for roughly a decade.

They never cease to wonder me.

I would truly hate to see that area disturbed and these birds lose their home.

I think there was a structure put in place on Granville Island for nesting. Anyone know if it worked?

good article.
It kills me when it comes to native land rights city folk change their tune when it is their back yard not some area in northern BC. I hope they build whatever suites their needs and financial goals.

Interesting idea loop in the possibility of transit line extension - more density along a "new" line always makes the investment better. I like it! Hope it doesn't upset the Kits Point.

It's ironic to have see the Squamish criticized for their approach and for having " legal obligation to obey municipal zoning laws that other developers are obliged to follow when they build within the city."
And noting that "...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..."
Meanwhile developers such as Concert and Westbank are proposing to over-ride existing zoning with massive increases in density in Downtown South (increase from 5.0 to 12.4 FSR) and the West End (increase from 1.5 to 7.5 FSR) in the absence of any "master planning process for the city." And the city appears to be encouraging them to ride roughshod over existing policy and needs of existing residents. What gives? Why the double standard?

Miro Cernetig's rhetoric immediately brought to mind the high handed attitudes and behaviors of UBC as they continue the self serving, arrogant, non-consultative development of "their" land regardless of its impact on the adjoining community and many City/Metro services, for example: commercial development, traffic, transit and schools. Whatever the new development proposed by the Squamish, it pales in comparison with respect to impact, if in fact there is even anything negative about it. (Good thing, though this Native land isn't adjoining that of the precious citizens of Kits Point, not that we shouldn't expect to hear from them anyway).

The extension of the streetcar line into the Squamish Nation lands under the Burrard Bridge would be of obvious benefit to the City, but would also present a wonderful opportunity for Squamish Nation.

If a streetcar maintenence facility were to be built under the bridge, it could provide a high tech teaching venue that could give Native youth an access to a growing industry. A partnership with BCIT or Bombardier could lead to an ongoing education program as well as employment. Furthermore, if a company such as Gomaco [builds road-building equipment and replica streetcars] could be attracted, the facility could over time produce a small number of refurvished or replica streetcars combining all the best technology as well as fine woodworking.

Access to the Squamish Nations land would be of obvious advantage to creating a streetcar system since it would allow easy access to Vanier Park, West Broadway, and of course the Arbutus Corridor. There is no reason why all parties affected shouldn't see a win/win result from this development.

This is a great idea! Throw in a streetcar for chickens and a community garden on a rooftop and I am sure Mayor will buy in. Where are the BC Liberal MLAs on this stuff. If they want to come back they should be talking about this kind of stuff.

Large housing developments are nothing new to the industrious First Nations of British Columbia.

The journal of explorer Simon Fraser notes that there was a 1,500-foot longhouse filled with apartments on Musqueam territory in the year 1807. That's a much larger footprint than any of these newly proposed towers.

I think people are forgeting the most important aspect of this project, that it could create some noise for mr and mrs puil, we don't want to disturb them , Since they pretty much put the maritime museum out of business by complaining to city hall and getting tour buses banned from the point. But thankfully I don't think mr and mrs puil hold to much sway with Kerry jang and this council.

I hope that any financial benefits from this project gets fairly distributed amongst the band.

Better get the Burrard Street bridge repaired before these buildings are built!!

only problem: that's not possible without knocking down some other buildings.

There's a starbucks built right on the streetcar tracks in granville island, meaning unless you knock down that building (or find some way to make the tracks go around, and the only real option is to run along streets, and I don't know how practical that is) then the streetcar isn't going to reach the Squamish lands regardless of what the Squamish do. Maybe research proposals before you throw them out?

Not that Miro is right to act all high-minded on this issue. I would like to know if any of his concerns have merit, but I do think he's only saying it because it's Natives and not, as other commentators have noted, UBC or someone else doing this.

Really, development of that land is a great idea and it should benefit the city as well as the Squamish, as long as it's done right, but i haven't heard anything to say they aren't doing it right.

This is a good plan. Bring it on.

@Tessa. I spoke with a number of folks about "The Starbucks Issue" at the Olympic Line. Apparently the contingency would be to run the line up 3rd Avenue then back on to the rail right of way. This would avoid removing that structure. I'm sure the transportation experts can work it out.

Check out!

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