Vancouver’s west side is about to get its largest development since the University of British Columbia.
The Jericho Lands, a 90-acre site with a view of English Bay and located minutes from the beach, is currently a sparse piece of land, home to park space, a private school, a community centre and residences for military personnel.
Two months ago, the City and the developers kicked off the planning process of what Vancouver’s planning chief hopes will become “an urban village of the next century.”
However, it’s not a run-of-the-mill for-profit developer that’s behind the site, but a partnership between the development corporation of the local Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and a federal Crown corporation.
Given the site’s historical importance, its prime location near the beach and upcoming rapid transit, and the fact that its ancestral inhabitants are developing the project, the City views the Jericho Lands project as a step forward for its goals of reconciliation, densification, transportation growth and housing affordability.
“I think it’s amazing that the three First Nations are working together on economic development,” said Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George-Wilson, “and working with the City and the federal government on engaging the greater community to see what kind of development can be done… That’s what reconciliation is all about: bringing all parties together.”
(The First Nations’ MST Development Corporation, which has no public phone number and instructs media to direct queries by email, has not responded to The Tyee’s requests in the past three weeks. The Tyee also contacted the only two of its six directors who have emails publicly listed with no response.)
Here’s what we know about the project so far.
Where exactly are the Jericho Lands?
The Jericho Lands are south of Jericho Beach. The site is bordered by West 4th on the north side, West Broadway and part of West 8th on the south, Discovery Street on the west and Highbury Street on the east.
Is a 90-acre site unusually large for Vancouver?
Yes. For comparison, the Jericho Lands site is larger than southeast False Creek, which is 80 acres and home to Olympic Village.
What was on the land and in the area historically?
For millennia, it was a rich fishing and hunting ground supported by two streams that flowed to the beaches and used by the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.
Nearby were outposts in the hills and where Locarno Beach is today was the village of Ee’yullmough or Eyalmu, which roughly translates to “good camping ground.”
What’s happened on the land since colonization?
In 1859, the Royal Navy and Royal Engineers, surveying Vancouver’s waterfront, identified Jericho Beach’s potential for a future military reserve.
The name Jericho was established around then, believed to be a portmanteau of Jerry’s Cove or Jerry & Co., a logging company on the land owned by a Jeremiah Rogers.
The site has had a complex history of use and ownership since.
There was a golf course there from 1892 to 1894, when it was destroyed by the sea, but golfers would return to the site in 1908 to establish a course once again as part of the Jericho Country Club.
The Royal Navy and Royal Engineers’ military vision for the site would be realized in 1920, when the federal government established the Jericho Garrison on part of the land. In 1942, the government would kick out the golf course to establish the Pacific command headquarters for the army, navy and air force.
In 1966, there was a dispute about the federal government’s claim on the land. Land was only supposed to be leased to the federal government by the province as long as it was used for a military purpose.
After that dispute, the north end of the site was given to the city for beach use, the west was given to the province, and the east was retained by the Department of National Defence.
Today, the site’s military presence has been reduced to 110 homes leased to personnel until 2020. The former garrison headquarters is still on site and leased to film and television crews.
Private school West Point Grey Academy and the Vancouver Park Board also lease the lands.
How did the local Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations come to own the site?
Due to the ongoing legacy of colonialism, they had to buy it.
In 2014, the three local First Nations through their MST Development Corporation purchased one of two parcels, the one home to the garrison owned by the federal government, with a federal Crown corporation called the Canada Lands Company for $237 million. The two parties collectively own the site 50-50.
On its own, MST purchased the other parcel from the province in 2016 for $480 million.
What will be developed on the site and when?
The consultation process began in March, and First Nation leaders strongly emphasized their openness to collaborate. After that back-and-forth, guiding principles and a site plan concept will be determined over the next two years before a draft is presented to council in 2021.
With the developers, city staff will be exploring options for the project to include amenities such as shops, services, childcare, community space, park space and affordable housing.
The city requires 30 per cent of the residential square footage in large developments to be set aside for affordable housing, with a minimum of 20 per cent for social housing and an additional 10 per cent for people with moderate incomes, likely taking the form of rental units available to those within an income bracket.
With regard to the city’s goal of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, staff will work with developers to create opportunities for sharing culture, storytelling and healing.
“This whole city exists on unceded territory, so it’s an important part of being a city of reconciliation,” said OneCity Councillor Christine Boyle. “I’m intrigued and excited to how these developments can make more visible the Indigenous history and their ongoing presence in these lands through the design of the physical form… We have an opportunity to create a modern Indigenous town.”
She acknowledges that “change is hard” for some residents with a big development next door.
“Even the best and most consulted projects end in a result that is different from the status quo, and can be hard for folks to adjust to,” she said.
“The challenge we have as a city is who gets a say. Who gets the most say in what the future of a neighbourhood looks like? Just existing residents? Potential future residents? It’s a particularly interesting challenge because we’re on unceded land, and the folks leading the development are the original residents of the neighbourhood. It adds an important layer to that question: who gets a say?”
What’s the Jericho Lands’ neighbourhood of West Point Grey like today?
West Point Grey is the city’s third most expensive neighbourhood, with an average property fetching $3.8 million, according to Real Estate Weekly in February.
Between 2001 and 2016, census data show that while the city’s population grew by 15.7 per cent, adding 85,810 people, West Point Grey’s grew at a smaller three per cent, adding 385 people. This puts the neighbourhood’s population growth as a share of the city’s during that period at less than half of a per cent.
“It’s something worrying about the west side for a long time,” said Marion Fudge, the president of the Point Grey Village Business Improvement Association and owner of Tenth & Proper, a fashion and lifestyle boutique. “We don’t have families here anymore. We don’t have working people.”
The decline in visitors, heavy property taxes, and the difficulty of hiring staff are putting pressure on businesses in the area.
Metro Vancouver’s mayors recently approved the extension of the SkyTrain to UBC. The first phase of the project, commonly referred to as the Broadway subway, will extend the SkyTrain’s Millennium Line west to Arbutus Street and is expected in 2025.
Completion of the SkyTrain to UBC is expected in 2030, with the train serving the Jericho Lands.
How does the community feel about change in the neighbourhood?
On the launch of the planning process, response to the promise of consultation seemed to be positive, though residents differ on how much density they would like to see and in what form.
“I left the meeting feeling quite hopeful that something special would happen,” said David Dolphin, a retired chemistry professor at UBC who’s lived in the neighbourhood since 1980. “It’s such a vast piece of land. I hope what’s to happen will be something unique that really makes Vancouver shine.”
Dolphin, who’s the president of the West Point Grey Community Association’s board, hopes that the money the city collects from development will be used for amenities that serve people who live in the neighbourhood, old and new.
“My worry is that the CAC development fees might possibly pay towards the transit rather than community amenities,” he said. CACs, or community amenity contributions, are a portion of a property’s land value lift created by a rezoning, collected by the city and spent on local facilities.
(Local money towards this SkyTrain investment could come from a newly approved tax on new housing in the Metro Vancouver region, a new land-value capture tax for the City of Vancouver proposed by Coun. Boyle and UBC, which has publicly announced willingness to contribute, but did not specify how much. It is also not unusual for a developer with a project nearby to help pay for a station; that’s what’s happening in Richmond with the new Capstan Canada Line Station.)
Dolphin is a fan of new transit investment in his neighbourhood, though is unsure whether SkyTrain or light rail is the better option after reading a study commissioned by the city, UBC and TransLink that found SkyTrain could cost twice as much as light rail.
Fudge of the business association said she has two views about the Jericho Lands: “It’s a shame to lose this beautiful green space, but at the same time, I recognize that densification is necessary. We need more housing, and certainly affordable housing is a necessity.”
Fudge has seen the percentage slated to be set aside for affordable housing, but she quips that it means the remaining percentage, the majority, would be “unaffordable housing” by default. “It’s a bit upsetting, but that’s how Vancouver works!” she said.
She added that she was pleased with the consultation so far with MST and feels positive about First Nations control over the project, since it is ultimately “their land.”
How can the public participate?
You can stay updated on progress, events and how to offer feedback on the city’s website here.