Urban development history spearheaded by local First Nations was made in Vancouver on Tuesday, as members of the Squamish First Nation overwhelmingly approved the construction of Senakw on their reserve in the Kitsilano neighbourhood.
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The staggering, unprecedented development on the 11.7-acre reserve located at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge will create approximately 6,000 homes within 11 towers up to 56 storeys in height.
Between 70% and 90% of the units will be designated as market rental units, while the remainder will be leasehold strata condominiums.
As well, between 150 and 200 of the homes will be made available to First Nation members at a below-market rate. Some commercial space will also be built into the development.
This is being billed as the single largest development on First Nation lands in Canada.
Members were asked to vote on two questions, with each question requiring a simple majority result for approval.
An 87% approval (718 of 827 voting members) was received for the question on land use and designation, while an 81% approval (665 of 826 voting members) was received on the question relating to the 50-50 business partnership between the First Nation and local developer Westbank.
Both parties will share the profits equally, but under the partnership the First Nation will only have to provide the land under a long-term lease. Westbank will secure all the financing required for the $3-billion construction cost.
“The Squamish Nation Council is thrilled with the outcome of this referendum, which was approved by a landslide. This is truly a landmark moment in our Nation’s history. The Sen̓áḵw Project will transform the Squamish Nation by providing immense social, cultural, and economic benefits to Squamish Nation members for generations to come,” said Khelsilem, a spokesperson and councillor for the First Nation, in a statement.
“The Squamish Nation Council raises our hands to thank all Squamish Nation Members who have participated in the process through attending information meetings, engaging with leadership and staff, and casting a vote in today’s referendum. We truly appreciate the time and effort Members put in to make an informed choice about the future of Sen̓áḵw.”
Over a project life cycle of approximately a century, Senakw will generate between $16 billion and $20 billion, based on a residential mix of 70% market rental housing and 30% condominiums.
For the First Nation, rental income alone would generate $8 billion to $10 billion over the entire life cycle, strata profits would bring in $290 million over the first 10 years, and the nation amenity contribution (NAC) would bring in $180 million over the first 10 years.
As the project sits on reserve land, it does not have to go through any of the City of Vancouver’s approval processes nor does it have to follow its restrictions, such as height and parking. Just 10% of the homes will be provided with parking stalls, well below the municipal standard, to lower construction costs and encourage the use of sustainable modes of transportation.
However, the First Nation will have to negotiate with municipal and regional authorities for road and utilities connections and services. City officials have already indicated their support for the project.
Now that the First Nation’s leaders have secured a mandate from their members to proceed with the project, it is expected to move at a relatively breathtaking pace. Construction on the first phase is expected to begin in early 2021, with an aim to reach completion on all five phases within just five years.
Some consultation with the wider community, providing the public with information on the project, is planned for the new year, although it is not required.