Squamish Nation moves Vancouver forward with transformative Senakw project

Feb 5 2021, 7:04 pm

By the end of this year, site preparation for construction could begin on the Senakw development, squeezed into the area around the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver.

Squamish First Nation members overwhelmingly voted to approve the massive development on their 12-acre Kitsilano reserve in late 2019. Thus allowing band leaders to seal the partnership with local developer Westbank and continue their work with refining the design concept.

In an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized, Khelsilem, a spokesperson and councillor of the First Nation, said the heights of several buildings have been increased, including the tallest tower, now up from 56 storeys to 59 storeys at 172 metres (564 ft). If it were built today, the tallest tower would be Vancouver’s third tallest building.

A 12th tower, completely dedicated to offices, has been added to the eastern end of the reserve, on a narrow parcel of the site. The office tower will have approximately 12 storeys. However, due to site constraints, the floor plates will be quite small creating a total floor area of only about 45,000 sq ft.

The development’s total floor area is now approximately four million sq ft, a significant increase from the 3.4 million sq ft in the 2019 design. The first of four construction phases will target the westernmost parcel of the reserve — a narrow strip of land between the bridge and Vanier Park.

“More of the scale and size of some of the massing, and the ground level and urban design, has sort of landed in more of a solid place over the past year,” he said.

“Some of the motifs of the building have been refined to incorporate Squamish culture and identity, and there is starting to be a bit more imagining of where the public gathering spaces will be.”

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

2021 artistic rendering of Senakw. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

2021 artistic rendering of Senakw. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

Revised plans for Senakw showing ground-level uses, including public spaces. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

The ground plain commercial space component of the project has changed too, with open public courtyards sunken into the landscape, activated by retail, restaurants, cafes, and potentially grocery stores and fitness centres.

It also takes advantage of the space under the Burrard Street Bridge, using the structure as a cover for an “outdoor restaurant,” gathering areas, a playground, and basketball courts.

The residential component of the project still carries a total of 6,000 units, possibly enough to house as many as 9,000 people.

For comparison, the entire False Creek South area — between Burrard Street Bridge and Cambie Street Bridge — contains about 5,600 people living in approximately 3,000 homes on 136 acres, a footprint that is about 12 times larger than Senakw but just over half the population. Concord Pacific Place along North False Creek has as many as 20,000 people in 10,000 homes within about 50 buildings on over 200 acres, which is almost 20 times larger than Senakw but only twice the population.

The housing tenure composition has not been finalized, but Khelsilem maintains purpose-built market rental housing will likely account for at least 70% of the homes. The below-market rental housing component dedicated to Squamish members has grown slightly to roughly 300 units.

Most of the remaining homes could be leasehold stratified condominiums, and potentially some of these condominiums could be made available to Squamish members at below-market as well.

The First Nation has set a goal of housing every member within a generation, defined as in 25 years. More than half of its 4,000 members live on reserve, and over 1,000 are on the housing waitlist, with the most recent housing allocations offered to members who have been waiting for over three decades.

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

2021 artistic rendering of Senakw. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

Revised plans for Senakw showing ground-level uses, including public spaces. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

Senakw’s non-market housing component for members will help achieve some of this broader goal directly. The real win is that the revenue generated by the market housing will provide the First Nation with the capacity to pursue greater self-determination. It will greatly enhance their ability to provide current members and future generations with more services, such as eldercare, education, and language and culture support. It would also help fund more member housing initiatives beyond this reserve.

Between $16 billion and $20 billion will be generated from the rental income of Senakw throughout the entire lifespan of its buildings, with the First Nation receiving half of this income under its 50-50 partnership with Westbank. In 2019, the construction cost of the project was estimated to be $3 billion.

Khelsilem adds many members have also expressed excitement about the trades training and employment opportunities that will be offered by the construction project.

“It is important for the public to understand that this is an economic development venture, it is not an affordable housing project. It is an economic development venture so that we can generate significant amounts of revenue to be invested into our community because we’ve been without the means to do it otherwise,” said Khelsilem.

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

2021 artistic rendering of Senakw. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

2021 artistic rendering of Senakw. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

While this is certainly not an affordable housing project, the infusion of thousands of market rental homes at Senakw will serve to improve overall housing affordability in Metro Vancouver by filling some of the demand from moderate-income households.

“The reality is new market rental housing is affordable for middle class workers and families in Vancouver, and that’s who this housing will be for,” he said, adding that strong demand for rental housing has persisted even under COVID-19 conditions.

“The fact that despite in the change in demographics in international students or international immigration, and we’re still not eclipsing a 3% or 5% vacancy rate, shows that even with the trends that are happening temporarily because of the pandemic, there is still a huge demand for purpose-built market rental, and so I think we’re poised to help support the development of a significant amount of supply into the city given the lack of development happening in purpose-built rental.”

New transit hub on Burrard Bridge, and streetcar

We also now have a better idea of the transportation demand management approach for Senakw.

For the amount of residential density proposed, a sheer number of vehicle parking stalls would typically be required. However, Senakw is being designed as a minimal parking development, says Khelsilem, with about one vehicle parking stall provided for every 10 homes. That is equivalent to roughly just 600 vehicle parking stalls.

Instead, there will be an emphasis on active transportation — thousands of secured bike parking spaces and ample bike share availability — and greatly enhanced public transit connections directly from the site.

New seamless, direct connections between Senakw and the Burrard Street Bridge will be established.

The First Nation is proposing to make alterations to the bridge that would widen a segment of the southern end of the bridge deck to create an on-bridge public transit hub, while also retaining the dedicated pedestrian and cycling pathways. North-south buses on the bridge heading in and out of downtown would then be able to pull into new bus-only curb lanes to pick up passengers at the new bus stops.

Just south of this hub, new gentle ramps will be added on both sides of the bridge to create pedestrian and cycling links.

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

Revised plans for Senakw showing changes to the Burrard Street Bridge to accommodate a new public transit hub and connections for pedestrians and cyclists. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

Site of the Senakw development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

Additionally, roughly 10,000 sq ft of land at the easternmost edge of its reserve — a narrow parcel at the northeast corner of the intersection of Fir Street and West 1st Avenue — will be set aside for a streetcar station.

The City of Vancouver has long-term plans to build a streetcar system along the former railway right-of-ways of Canadian Pacific. From the possible Senakw stop, the streetcar line would run south along the Fir Street roadway and then onto the False Creek South railway corridor — past Granville Island — for transfers to the Canada Line from Olympic Village Station. A further extension eastward through the Olympic Village could bring the streetcar for transfers to the Expo Line’s Main Street-Science World Station and reach points beyond into the downtown peninsula.

Within the vicinity of the intersection of Fir Street and West 2nd Avenue, passengers would be able to transfer onto another streetcar line that runs further south along the Fir Street roadway before transitioning onto the Arbutus Greenway, allowing transfers to the Millennium Line from the future Arbutus Station on West Broadway.

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

Sites of the office tower (left) and potential streetcar station at Senakw. (Daily Hive; Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

Sites of the potential streetcar station at Senakw. (Google Maps)

As Senakw is on reserve, the First Nation were not required to send their proposal to the City of Vancouver for review and approval, but they still need to work with the municipal government on establishing basic utilities and road connections, and the aforementioned transportation improvements. Khelsilem says they are in conversations with the city on developing the service agreement for the site and “the broader impacts and opportunities” of the development.

Beyond Senakw

The First Nation already has a working relationship with the city on several other major redevelopments off-reserve within Vancouver. These are pursued as regular private developments under the MST Development Corporation — a real estate development company owned by the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations.

MST submitted its rezoning application to build over 2,600 homes on the 21-acre Heather Lands (old RCMP headquarters) in November 2020, and the Jericho Lands policy statement guiding future rezoning could be ready for Vancouver City Council’s review and consideration later this year. Both of these projects are partnerships with federal crown corporation Canada Lands Company.

MST has also partnered with Aquilini Investment Group on the future redevelopments of the former BC Liquor distribution branch on the nine-acre site at 3200 East Broadway next to the Millennium Line’s Rupert Station, and the 40-acre Willingdon Lands immediately west of the BCIT Burnaby campus.

Additionally, Concord Pacific is exploring a possible partnership with MST on the eventual redevelopment of the 6.6-acre St. Paul’s Hospital site in downtown Vancouver.

The 7.6-acre former Molson Coors brewery immediately west of Senakw is owned by Concord Pacific, which intends to redevelop the property with a high density mix of employment and residential space. A highly preliminary concept for the brewery redevelopment, made before plans for Senakw went public, called for 1.8 million sq ft of total floor area, including 300,000 sq ft of office space and 3,000 homes within towers up to 25 storeys.

The public transit infrastructure proposed for Senakw would also benefit the brewery redevelopment.

quantum park molson coors vancouver

Artistic rendering of Quantum Park, the redevelopment of the old Molson Coors brewery in Vancouver. (Concord Pacific)

molson coors concord pacific quantum park

Model of Concord Pacific’s highly preliminary design concept for the old Molson Coors brewery development in Vancouver. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

+ News
+ Architecture & Design
+ Development
+ Urbanized