Vancouver city council on Tuesday approved a new plan for the proposed SkyTrain extension to the University of British Columbia that could see a station built on the Jericho Lands — setting the stage for a renewed fight over the area’s redevelopment.
Council spent their entire Tuesday meeting debating a staff report that recommended the Jericho station over another proposed location on Sasamat Street in West Point Grey. The station would potentially be the final one before the line terminates at the university.
Council’s debate came after a long line of speakers criticized the plan, saying it will lead to further densification and rising housing costs.
Speakers also criticized what appeared to be a lack of public consultation on a potential Jericho station before the release of the report last week, saying it appeared more aligned with future redevelopment plans in the prized, First Nation-owned lands in West Point Grey than the SkyTrain extension itself.
“I don’t see the point of considering this station when we don’t even know if this extension will be approved,” one speaker said, pointing to the lack of concrete funding and approval for extending the Millennium Line to UBC.
“I fear we’re really putting the cart before the horse.”
Council passed an amendment that directs staff to report back on ensuring affordable housing is prioritized along the extension route. Another attempted amendment to send the whole report back to staff for further consultation was defeated.
Staff argued in their report and presentation that the Jericho station “performs better than a Sasamat Station across strategic objectives,” which includes future redevelopment of the Jericho Lands.
Those redevelopment plans that were unveiled last fall included mention of a potential subway station. The staff report heard by council Tuesday marked the first sign that such a station was being seriously considered by the city, or that it was preferred by city staff over other options.
The report also outlines what staff say is the preferred route for the proposed extension: continuing along West Broadway past the future Arbutus Street Station to two proposed stations at Macdonald Street and Alma Street, bending slightly north to the proposed Jericho station, and then continuing on to UBC along West Eighth Avenue from Blanca Street.
The report comes after public consultation on a potential SkyTrain extension to UBC was held last spring, which did not yet include station locations.
Staff said council’s approval of the new plan will “demonstrate municipal support” that will help inform future decisions on the extension from TransLink and senior levels of government, which have yet to approve specific funding.
TransLink is due to release its own report on the proposed extension, including preferred station locations and route alignment options, later this year.
Under the currently approved and funded Phase Two of TransLink’s 10-Year Vision, the Broadway subway would only extend to Arbutus Street. That extension from Vancouver Community College is currently under construction and is expected to be up and running by 2025.
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According to TransLink’s report in 2019, extending the line another seven kilometres from Arbutus Street to UBC would cost between $3.3 billion and $3.8 billion. That number has not yet been updated but is believed to be much higher.
In July 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government will invest up to 40 per cent for the SkyTrain extension from Arbutus to UBC. B.C. Premier John Horgan promised provincial funding will match the money coming from Ottawa.
Vancouver city council voted in 2019 to support a further extension to UBC, with only COPE Coun. Jean Swanson and Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Coun. Colleen Hardwick voting against it.
In 2020, the city struck an agreement with UBC and the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations to lobby senior governments to cover 80 per cent of the funding.
Jericho Lands debate renewed
During Tuesday’s meeting, speakers warned that the UBC extension will only lead to further densification along the Broadway corridor and into the Kitsilano and Point Grey neighbourhoods — including within the Jericho Lands themselves.
Hardwick also raised the possibility of a plebiscite to gauge public support for the UBC SkyTrain extension, which at least one of the speakers agreed with when questioned directly.
She repeatedly urged council to delay approving the report in order to allow for further public consultation, which ultimately failed to gain broad support among her fellow councillors.
Development of the 90-acre Jericho Lands — which run from West Fourth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, and from Highbury Street to the edge of Trimble Park near Discovery Street — has been debated for years.
The lands are currently co-owned by the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation, after purchasing them from the B.C. government.
Last October, the city unveiled two concepts for the site’s redevelopment that would house between 15,000 and 18,000 people in a variety of residential towers and smaller buildings. The area currently houses about 13,000 people.
Council is expected to consider a final staff report on the proposed redevelopment, which will be undertaken in partnership with the three First Nations, sometime this year.
Staff says including a SkyTrain station within the development will provide benefits for the overall community, as well as minimize construction disruption to other West Point Grey residents.