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Vancouver redevelopment’s critics question lack of early hydrogeological study

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Opposition to dense Jericho Lands high-rise project
A new poll suggests that most Vancouverites oppose the Jericho Lands' luxury high-rise project. Those surveyed are against the density and possible environmental impact of the development. As Aaron McArthur reports, there's incentive to maximize land use as the city battles a housing crisis – Nov 3, 2023

A group of concerned citizens is expressing concerns with a large redevelopment proposed for 90 acres of land by Vancouver’s Jericho Beach, citing a lack of hydrogeological study on the land thus far.

The draft policy statement for the Jericho Lands planning program, outlines the proposal to build about 13,000 new homes for 24,000 people in the neighbourhood and describes a vision to create a “high-density, mixed-used and car-light community centred on rapid transit.”

If approved, it would include some 30 acres of parks and open space, as well as walking and cycling paths.

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Residents of Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood opposed proposed Jericho Lands development

The Jericho Coalition, however, said it’s strange that no hydrogeological study has been done to accompany the proposal, which is in its final phase prior to the crafting of an official development plan. Such a study would assess subsurface formation and groundwater conditions that could affect the site development, but is slated to take place at a later date.

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“It certainly affects the economics of where you would build,” said Murray Hendren, a member of the Jericho Coalition and a former environmental engineer who conducted groundwater monitoring.

“I think everyone here is going to be very cautious — the proponents and the city included. They know the risks, they just don’t know the risks as they haven’t defined them for this particular site yet.”

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Hendren said the City of Vancouver’s working group on the project, which he co-chairs, has raised the groundwater concerns for years. If the study is conducted and produces results that require the proponents to move buildings around or stack them higher, the result would be greater density that the coalition doesn’t support, he added.

The Jericho Coalition vigorously opposes the project, claiming that its towers up to 49 storeys high would have density “three times greater than the City of Hong Kong.” Last year, it commissioned a Forum Research poll that found 72 per cent of 401 respondents want the City of Vancouver to reject the proposal.

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The land, whose redevelopment will span 25 to 30 years, is owned by the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwxwú7mesh ̱ (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations and federal government, through a joint venture of their MST Partnership and the Canada Lands Company (CLC). The latter is a self-financing federal Crown corporation.

In a joint statement, the MST-CLC Partnership said the lands will be a model for rainwater management and possibly restore historic waterflows to downstream wetlands and other systems in Jericho Beach Park.

“At the same time, water will be slowed, stored, and celebrated so that spiritual and other cultural relationships with water can be restored at ʔəy̓alməxʷ/Iy̓álmexw/Jericho Lands,” the partnership wrote.

“We have undertaken technical work alongside the City of Vancouver to better understand the aquifer and how groundwater moves through it. Groundwater will be managed to protect the aquifer, maintain flows to downstream natural environments and ecosystems, and to support groundwater recharge, through building and public realm design and by limiting underground parking structures where aquifer sensitivities are present.”

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The landowners’ draft policy statement commits to submitting a hydrogeological study to the municipality in advance of the first rezoning application, addressing requirements in its groundwater management bulletin.

The redevelopment’s guiding principles include reconciliation, sustainability, cohesive community, inclusiveness, and more.

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In an emailed statement, the City of Vancouver said it’s working closely with MTS Partnership and the federal Crown corporation to ensure a detailed hydrological assessment is completed.

“Substantive hydrogeological and groundwater technical studies for the entire site will be undertaken and are required prior to the first rezoning application and approval will be contingent on the appropriate mitigation of groundwater-related risks as per normal City practice,” it wrote.

Hendren said it’s an “odd way to do planning.” Based on his experience, he said that study ought to be conducted earlier in order to present a more final version of the redevelopment to the public.

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The draft policy statement is slated for a mayor and council vote on Jan. 24.

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