Vancouver City Council approves Indigenous-owned Heather Lands development with 2,600 homes

Jun 3 2022, 4:35 pm

All 10 city councillors and the mayor of Vancouver unanimously voted last week to approve the rezoning application for the Heather Lands redevelopment within the Cambie Corridor.

It is the first rezoning approval of a major mixed-use, neighbourhood-sized development pursued by Indigenous ownership in not only the City of Vancouver but across Metro Vancouver.

The concept and design of the 21-acre redevelopment of the RCMP’s former BC headquarters campus — located at 4949-5255 Heather Street and 657 West 37th Avenue, just west of Queen Elizabeth Park — has further evolved since May 2018, when the previous city council approved the project’s policy statement to guide the rezoning process.

The redevelopment is a joint partnership between federal crown corporation Canada Lands Company and MST Development Corporation — the for-profit development arm of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Unlike Senakw by the Squamish Nation, the Heather Lands are required to follow the City’s policies and approval processes as the property is not on reserve.

Significant changes have been made to the project since the policy statement was approved in 2018. The rezoning application was then submitted in 2020.

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. View looking north from Oakridge Municipal Town Centre. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. View looking west from Queen Elizabeth Park. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. View looking southwest from Queen Elizabeth Park. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

The newly approved rezoning calls for significantly more rental housing, beyond the 20% social housing and 20% affordable housing requirements of the 2018 policy statement. There are now 540 social housing units, 100 moderate-income rental units, and 300 market rental units. The social housing component is also deeply affordable, with 70% of the units with low rents set at or below BC Housing’s Housing Income Limits. Half of the social housing units are also sized for families, defined as units with at least two bedrooms.

When combined with the allocation of 1,672 leasehold strata-titled units, the total number of homes now reaches about 2,600 units — up from the policy statement’s tally of 2,300 units. There will be enough homes for roughly 5,000 people.

The amount of commercial space has more than doubled from 55,000 sq ft to over 125,000 sq ft — including 62,000 sq ft of retail and restaurant space, and 63,000 sq ft of office space.

The capacity of the childcare centre has grown from 69 to 74 kids.

To accommodate the various larger uses, the total floor area has grown from 2.3 million sq ft to 2.63 million sq ft, representing a 0.25 increase in the floor area ratio (FAR) density, now 2.75 FAR. There will be about a dozen buildings, with the range of heights increasing to a maximum of 28 storeys — up from the previous limit of 24 storeys.

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. Building uses. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. Site plan and building uses. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. Phasing sequence. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. Building heights, public parks, green spaces, and open spaces. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

And the amount of space dedicated to public parks and open spaces has also grown from 4.0 acres to 4.6 acres. Public parks and green spaces run north-south across the entire site, linked together by a “Forest Trail.”

This is in addition to the 23,000 MST cultural centre on the northwest corner parcel of the property — next to an event-friendly public plaza, and the commercial space cluster — and setting aside space for a future elementary school for Conseil Solaire Francophon at the one-acre southwest corner parcel.

The overall building architecture, landscaping, and urban planning design also take on First Nations motifs and traditions, with the neighbourhood carved into distinct areas — Homes in the Village, Homes in the Forest, Drum Beat/Heart, Trail Through The Forest, Teaching, and Meeting Point. Local architectural firm Dialog is the design firm of the project, which will be built in five phases.

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. First Nations-inspired thematic districts. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands 2020

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands 2020 15

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

For all of these diverse components, the Heather Lands project won much praise from city council.

Green Party councillors Michael Wiebe, Adriane Carr, and Pete Fry, and ABC councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Lisa Dominato suggested this project sets a new precedent for developments in the city.

“What an exciting project, I’ve been really blown away. I haven’t been this excited about a project in this chamber since I was first elected,” said Green Party Councillor Pete Fry. “The use of open space, it’s just a beautiful design and I cannot get past the level of affordability that is being achieved here. That is precedent-setting.”

“We’re all being blown away by what’s being accomplished with this project in terms of affordability. It’s a game-changer that’s turning everything on its head, and it is a beautiful design.”

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

Dominato said: “I do think it is a fantastic project and there is an enormous amount of benefit that will come from it. I love the planning around the cultural space, green space, and connection to nature, and how important it is especially in urban centres.”

And Mayor Kennedy Stewart said: “In so many ways, this does the right thing for the city. You’re thinking about your communities moving forward, but you’re also thinking about our community as a whole. There is so much workforce housing.”

COPE councillor Jean Swanson praised the project’s ability to achieve more housing affordability than developments pursued by traditional for-profit developers, encouraged the development team to pursue federal funding to deepen the level of affordability even further, and encouraged the MST Development Corporation to make a profit for the benefit of their Indigenous communities.

NPA Councillor Melissa De Genova highlighted the project as an opportunity for meaningful reconciliation: “I think we can talk about reconciliation or we can show action in reconciliation. Voting for this project is showing action in reconciliation.”

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

The project also won the support of TEAM councillor Colleen Hardwick, although a majority of City Council rejected her amendment calling for the formal/technical removal of the on-site Fairmont building from the Vancouver Heritage Registrar, and that endorsement of the removal is not to be taken as a precedent for contravening the city’s heritage policies requiring the preservation of heritage designated buildings.

The 1912-built Fairmont building, an example of Tudor Revival architectural style, will most likely be demolished to make way for the MST cultural centre. The building was originally built as a private school for boys, before being used for the Langara School, a military hospital, the Fairmont military barracks, and then the RCMP Fairmont Training Academy as one of the buildings of the RCMP headquarters.

The property’s Indigenous owners have expressed a strong desire for the building’s removal of the property or demolition given its association with the RCMP.

Since the approval of the policy statement in 2018, City staff has been exploring the feasibility of preserving the building by relocating it off-site.

Fairmont Building Heather Street Lands

The old Fairmont Building on the Heather Street Lands in Vancouver. (City of Vancouver)

The historic Fairmont Academy training building at the old RCMP headquarters in Vancouver. (Google Maps Streetview)

fairmont building heather street lands vancouver

How the old Fairmont Building on the Heather Street Lands could be relocated off the site. (City of Vancouver)

Earlier this spring in advance of the rezoning’s public hearing, City staff released the findings. The cost of relocating the Fairmont building in several sections would be at least $47 million and the relocation would trigger expensive upgrades to restore its heritage and ensure it meets the latest seismic and structural codes. Finding a suitable property nearby (given the challenges of the relocation) and a willing property owner was deemed unfeasible, and the cost of acquiring three single-family lots nearby would add a further cost of about $22 million.

“I am supportive of this development. It is moving forward in the exact right direction that reconciliation was intended to be. I see so many positives from it, and I really want you all to know that,” said Hardwick.

“By and large, I see that as a huge step forward. My one reservation would be the treatment of the heritage property. It has heritage significance that pre-dates its becoming an RCMP station, and as the representative on the city’s Heritage Commission for this council, I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to that. I understand the desire to make things go away that have negative feelings associated with them, but I remain hopeful that there may be a way to resuscitate it in some way.”

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

The redevelopment’s community amenity contribution (CACs) calculation accounts for the in-kind inclusion of social housing, parks, and open spaces, the MST cultural centre, and childcare facility. The social housing will be owned and operated by a not-for-profit housing provider that represents the First Nations, but the municipal government will have the option of buying the south public park, MST cultural centre, and childcare facility each for a nominal $1.00 if the First Nations to not have a desire to own these community assets.

Additionally, $13 million in cash CACs will be provided to the municipal government to cover the cost of street upgrades along the perimeter of the property.

The project also provides the municipal government with $57.8 million in development cost levies and offers $4.3 million in public art.

While the development site is next to the potential future 33rd Avenue Station site of SkyTrain Canada Line, the city has not required the project to provide a financial contribution towards the construction of the additional subway station to serve the Cambie Corridor’s new density.

City staff has noted that the public consultation for the rezoning application showed there was public concern about the delivery and timing of the potential future station at the intersection of Cambie Street and West 33rd Avenue, which would also directly serve Queen Elizabeth Park. There are concerns there is insufficient access to public transit without a future station, given the allocated density.

Further down the Canada Line, in exchange for the approval of the Pearson Dogwood project, Onni Group committed to providing a $20 million contribution towards the potential future 57th Avenue Station, but this station is also highly uncertain given the immense challenges of adding an underground station on an active subway line and the associated high costs. The 33rd Avenue Station site likely faces similar challenges. Both additional stations were also not included in TransLink’s recently approved 30-year Transport 2050 plan.

Without 33rd Avenue Station, the closest SkyTrain stations to the Heather Lands are Oakridge-41st Avenue Station (10-minute walk from the property’s southern edge) and King Edward Station (13-minute walk from the property’s northern edge).

Heather Lands is one of five neighbourhood-sized redevelopments within the Cambie Corridor Plan, which also includes Oakridge Centre mall, Langara Gardens, the former Oakridge Transit Centre bus depot, and Pearson Dogwood. City Council approved the rezoning application for the former TransLink bus depot in late 2020, and a revised rezoning application for Pearson Dogwood — adding significant rental housing — will go to a public hearing later this month.

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

heather lands vancouver mst development corporation 2022

Heather Lands redevelopment, Vancouver. (Dialog/Canada Lands Company/MST Development Corporation)

Heather Lands is one of three sites in Metro Vancouver sold by the federal government to the partnership of Canada Lands Company and MST Development Corporation in 2014.

Other than the Heather Lands, the acquisition also included the eastern 52-acre portion of West Point Grey’s Jericho Lands previously used as a military establishment (the western portion was later acquired from the provincial government) and the five-acre former Department of Fisheries and Oceans property at 4165 Marine Drive in West Vancouver.

The properties were acquired for a combined total value of $307 million, including $237 million for the eastern half of Jericho Lands, $59 million for the Heather Lands, and $11 million for the fisheries site.

Under the terms of the sale at the time, the federal government stipulated MST Development Corporation would have a 28% stake in the partnership, and an additional 22% stake acquired from Canada Lands Company.

The much larger 90-acre Jericho Lands development with 10 million sq ft of building floor area — containing 9,000 homes for up to 18,000 people, plus one million sq ft of office, retail, and restaurant space — is currently in the pre-zoning stage of creating a policy statement. Potential concept options for the policy statement were revealed in October 2021. It is unclear when a draft final policy statement will be ready, but it will not be considered by the current city council given the need to perform further public consultation on a draft concept. Just like the Heather Lands process, an approved policy statement will guide the future rezoning application of the Jericho Lands.

At the end of this month, Burnaby City Council will hold a public hearing for the conclusion of its process of deliberating the rezoning application for the redevelopment of the Willingdon Lands — a 40-acre site, previously owned by the provincial government, immediately west of the BCIT Burnaby campus. This is also a local First Nations for-profit project, minus the Squamish Nation; the Willingdon Lands development is a partnership between the Musqueam Indian Band, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and Aquilini Development.

The Willingdon Lands project is proposed to include 5,000 homes — leasehold strata, market rental, moderate-income rental, affordable rental, and live-work units — and a 450,000-sq-ft film and television production studio, which could support 3,000 local jobs upon completion.

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