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Squamish Nation doubles proposed Kits development to 11 towers, 6K units

A major development planned by the Squamish First Nation at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge has doubled in size. Ted Chernecki reports.

A proposed new housing development on Squamish Nation land has doubled in scope, with plans for up to 11 towers on the slice of land next to False Creek.

The Squamish first proposed the development in April, with plans for about 3,000 units — most of them rental. That proposal has now expanded to include an estimated 6,000 units, of which 80-90 per cent would be rental.

READ MORE: Squamish Nation planning major housing development on lands near Kitsilano

The nation plans to partner with developer Westbank to build the towers, the largest of which would be 56 storeys.

A view of the proposed project’s footprint.
A view of the proposed project’s footprint. Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation

Most of the units would be market-priced, but the plan calls for efforts to find partnerships to subsidize some social housing. It would also have parking spots for just 10 per cent of residents.

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Squamish Councillor and spokesperson Khelsilem said the earlier, 3,000-unit projection was based on preliminary assumptions about the project.

“We hadn’t really looked at what type of typology and urban design would we want to propose for the site,” he said.

Mixed reaction to Squamish Nation’s plans for new housing development
Mixed reaction to Squamish Nation’s plans for new housing development

“So when we really started to dig down, we saw that there was the potential for more units. But the other part of it is we see there’s a housing crisis going on in Vancouver and building a lot more rental seems like an important thing to do.”

Khelsilem added that because the land is collectively owned by the Squamish people, the development needs to maximize revenues to benefit the entire nation.

The development would be sited on land adjacent to Vanier Park, straddling both sides of the Burrard Bridge.

Squamish land in the area, known as Senakw, once included Vanier Park as well as the Seaforth armoury, but was whittled down over years of expropriation and buyouts, eventually forcing the nation’s members to the North Shore.

READ MORE: Final piece of Jericho Lands sold to First Nations for $480 million

It took the Squamish years of legal battles to win back the small piece they now possess.

“We’ve been eyeing this property that was returned to us in 2003 after it was taken in an illegal eviction that happened in the early turn of the century,” said Khelsilem.

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“So when we won the land back, because of its proximity to the downtown area, it makes sense as an economic development project.”

The land is all reservation territory belonging to the Squamish, meaning the nation is exempt from city bylaws or the development permit process.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Senakw development straddling the north and south sides of the Burrard Bridge.
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Senakw development straddling the north and south sides of the Burrard Bridge. Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart dismissed concerns that because of Squamish land rights, the proposal could be out of step with the city’s development goals.

Stewart said he supported the project, and said he’d been in conversation with both Khelsilem and other members of the Squamish council.

“In terms of this being a city of reconciliation, I think this is a very important step forward,” said Stewart Tuesday.

“It really is good for the Squamish Nation in terms of establishing roots back in a traditional community, provides housing, revenue sources, but it brings a lot of rental housing to the city.”

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An artist’s rendering of the proposed Senakw development.
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Senakw development. Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation

While the city has no say over hot-button questions such as density or tower heights, Stewart said the Squamish are still negotiating a service agreement with Vancouver, which would cover utilities and emergency services, and would allow the city to advocate for its own priorities.

“That’s part of why the partnerships and negotiation are so important,” said Stewart.

Mixed reaction to Squamish Nation’s plans for new housing development
Mixed reaction to Squamish Nation’s plans for new housing development

Khelsilem added that while the Squamish have no legal requirement to hold public hearings, they do want to engage with the community.

But he said the nation’s members had also made clear that there was a limit to how sensitive they would be to neighbours’ development concerns.

“Our people have seen the city develop all around us over the past 100 years, massive towers built on our land that used to be our hunting and fishing grounds, and our community has seen very little benefit to the massive development that’s happened on our lands,” he said.

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“So I think there’s a reasonable expectation from our people that we want to pursue development that’s sustainable and smart and good for the community, but we also want to start seeing some development that’s good for our people.”

The project will still need to be approved by Squamish Nation members in a referendum on Dec. 10.

The scale of the project is so great that it could take two decades to complete construction, if approved.