Squamish Nation planning 6,000 new homes next to Burrard Bridge (RENDERINGS)

Nov 5 2019, 12:40 pm

A proposed redevelopment by Squamish Nation of their 11.7-acre reserve at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge promises to provide the First Nation with economic security for generations to come, as well as a flood of much-needed new rental housing supply for residents of Metro Vancouver over the short-to-medium term.

In April of this year, Squamish Nation revealed its intent to redevelop its traditional lands. At the time the proposal envisioned 3,000 homes, but there are now far more ambitious plans for the project — 6,000 homes within 11 towers, mostly rental housing, forming a new skyline in the Kitsilano area. The tallest of the building heights will be about 56 storeys.

Squamish Nation lands at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver. (Squamish Nation)

In an interview with Daily Hive, Squamish Nation councillor Khelsilem says his band’s members are currently in the process of being informed of the $3-billion proposal, which is a 50-50 partnership between the First Nation and local developer Westbank.

This comes ahead of the band’s referendum on December 10, 2019 on whether to proceed with the partnership. If members provide their leaders with the necessary approval, the massive redevelopment is expected to move at a breathtaking pace.

As Senakw, the name of the project, sits within the reserve’s boundaries, the First Nation is able to fully exercise its rights and construct a redevelopment without having to follow the City of Vancouver’s zoning and years-long application and review process. It aligns with the city’s much-touted policy of reconciliation.

But they will still need to negotiate with the municipal government and regional district for road and utilities connections.

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Artistic rendering of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)

If all goes as planned, master planning and detailed design work will continue throughout 2020, and construction could begin in early 2021 for a full completion within just five years.

“What we’re recognizing is there’s a huge opportunity for rental in the city, and we really want to provide that type of housing for a lot of the residents here,” said Khelsilem. “Bringing it on sooner rather than later is going to be a huge benefit.”

Currently, the low supply of rental housing has pushed the city’s rental vacancy rate to just 1%, effectively pushing up rental rates. This single redevelopment could possibly achieve a substantial chunk of the city’s 10-year housing target of creating 20,000 secured market rental homes.

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Site plan of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)

All of this residential density will be supported by amenities, but to achieve this the redevelopment will not follow the typical podium and tower structural form; the density will be achieved by building taller towers, making space on the ground for parks and community spaces.

“We are trying to maximize the density. We’re doing a unique development that we generally don’t see in Vancouver,” he said.

Other community amenity spaces, such as basketball and lacrosse courts, are also planned for the area under the Burrard Street Bridge, activating under-utilized space.

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Artistic rendering of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)

Some commercial spaces are also planned on the ground level, although the precise mix of retail, restaurants, and other forms of commercial development, potentially some offices, have yet to be determined.

These commercial spaces are planned to be integrated into the landscape, with the rooftops doubling as accessible park space.

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Artistic rendering of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)

As for the transportation infrastructure needed to support the density, just 10% of the homes will be provided with a parking space, a ratio that is well below the municipal standard, but intended to encourage residents to use other forms of transportation other than the private automobile.

Khelsilem says the First Nation is looking to start a conversation with the municipal government to extend the route of the future Arbutus Greenway streetcar towards Senakw.

The city’s master plan for the streetcar currently does not call for a span that serves the area, and city staff last year recommended disposing of the former railway right-of-way, selling it back to Canadian Pacific Railway for $1.00. But the planned density, coupled with Concord Pacific’s long-term plan of redeveloping their old Molson Coors brewery property, located immediately south of Senakw, would warrant a streetcar connection.

Such a streetcar service along the South False Creek and Arbutus Greenway corridors would provide a connection to the Canada Line’s Olympic Village Station and the Millennium Line’s future Arbutus Station.

The project’s design architect is Revery Architecture, the legacy firm of the late Bing Thom, which recently opened a new office nearby next to the brewery.