The Squamish Nation has an ambitious plan to add almost 600 hectares to its land reserves in the Squamish Valley.
The additions, detailed in a Community Development Plan distributed to Squamish Nation members, shows the First Nation hopes to add land at 10 sites in the Squamish Valley, land that could accommodate more than 19,000 people.
The Squamish Nation is doing this for a number of reasons: first, because its housing needs are not being met and there's a backlog of approximately 1,000 people on a housing list. Also, much of its current housing in the Squamish Valley is located within a 200-year floodplain and dyking the reserves to guard against floods would require major capital investment.
Beyond that, however, the Squamish Nation population is expected to double over the next 15 years.
"Basically it would meet the needs of our community for the short, mid and long-term for housing," Hereditary Chief Ian Campbell, a Squamish Nation councillor, said in an interview. "Basically a lot of our reserves are in a (200-year) floodplain. As the population grows it's expected to double. We certainly need to provide adequate housing opportunities for the long-term needs of our membership."
Housing works like this for the Squamish Nation: members apply for housing through the band government. Applicants are categorized based on various factors including age, marital status and how many children they have. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada provides enough funding to build 15 houses a year, which doesn't meet demand. So the Squamish Nation has to generate its own revenue to build enough housing for its population.
"Unfortunately there's a huge cost to that," Campbell said. "The waiting list is certainly long, that's one of the priority issues for people at this time."
Additions to reserve are projected to take place at various sites throughout the Squamish Valley. Parcel 3, located above Quest University and just outside the District of Squamish's boundaries, measures 261.9 hectares, according to the Community Development Plan.
At maximum, it could put 16,000 members on a site that's expected to have residential, industrial and commercial development. It would also be directly adjacent to a residential neighbourhood and the Garibaldi Highlands community.
The Squamish Nation obtained an option to purchase this parcel through an agreement with BC Rail that was finalized in 2000. The agreement, which arose out of concerns about commercial development in the Squamish Estuary, gave the First Nation the option to purchase 1,200 acres of land at Porteau Cove.
When infrastructure costs proved too expensive for development of member housing at Porteau Cove, the Squamish Nation joined with developer Concord Pacific to make that a market housing development.
The Squamish Nation also worked with the province to see what Crown lands were available for member housing, as well as physical characteristics of the lands that might support residential development. Parcel 3 is just one of 10 sites it gained an option to purchase for member housing in that agreement.
Other parcels being considered for purchase are located throughout the Squamish Valley. One of them, Parcel 6, which measures 118.82 hectares and could accommodate 1,000 members, is located at Evans Lake and adjacent to the Squamish Nation's Cheakamus reserve. The Community Development Plan notes that this site is in a "wilderness" setting, in contrast to its urban reserves in North Vancouver.
Squamish Councillor Patricia Heintzman said she was aware that the Squamish Nation is looking to develop land in and around the District of Squamish's boundaries but she declined to elaborate.
"They've brought something to us, but it's not for us to release," she said.
The Squamish Nation expects to pay for the additions to reserves by developing land for market housing at their Seymour, Capilano, Kitsilano, Stawamus and Chekwelp reserves.
At the Capilano reserve, the lessees at Park Royal Shopping Centre have unused density in their existing lease and have proposed to develop market housing. The Squamish Nation, as landowner, could profit from this development.
The First Nation has also voted to lease 8.67 hectares of land at its Kitsilano reserve in the City of Vancouver. The property, located close to Vanier Park and the Molson Brewery, could one day accommodate office space and rental housing - two developments in strong demand in Vancouver.
Absent from the Community Development Plan is any mention of the profits the development at Porteau Cove could bring. The SLRD has granted zoning for development of a neighbourhood with 1,100 homes, including condominiums, villas and townhomes ranging in size from 800 to 2,500 square feet.
Asked where that development stands today, Campbell said it's "still on the books" but needs to be revisited in light of the changes in the world economy.
"We went through the rezoning process with the SLRD and we looked at even going so far as getting close to pre-sales," he said. "Then we kind of shelved it a bit to see where the economy was going to go. Now with the dust settling we'll speak to our partners, see where they're at with it. If they're not in, then we have to consider our options."