B.C. government mum on Jericho Lands
The provincial government is conducting an appraisal and an environmental investigation of its 38-acre parcel of property on the Jericho Lands, according to Freedom of Information and Privacy Act documents recently posted on a government website.
Notice of the studies on the prized piece of land are contained in three pages of speaking notes prepared for Amrik Virk, the Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, and were posted in July on the government’s “open information” website.
The notes were written in advance of a public meeting in April on the Jericho Lands to discuss the future of the West Side property, which had long been owned by the federal and provincial governments until the feds announced in October 2014 that it sold its 53 acres to a consortium of First Nations.
Virk never did attend the meeting.
The provincial government has not said what its plans are for its portion of the lands, which are bordered on the north by West Fourth Avenue, south by West Eighth Avenue, east by the federal government’s former lands and west to Trimble Park.
David Eby, the NDP’s MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, said news of an appraisal suggests to him the provincial government is preparing to sell its land. And Eby, who believes the property should be used to build affordable housing, said he is concerned the appraisal is being done without any feedback from area residents.
“I’m not sure quite how you assess the value of the property without knowing how much of it, for example, you’re going to hold back for a new school site or for a community centre, or for any other community amenities including affordable housing and parkland,” said Eby, whose party requested Virk’s speaking notes under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act. “It just seems that the province is putting the cart ahead of the horse, here.”
Eby is worried the property will be sold to a developer who will build luxury condominiums, which would continue to make the area of the city unaffordable for the vast majority of residents. With limited large pieces of land available for development in Vancouver, Eby said the property is an opportunity to develop a project that considers the future of an ever-increasing expensive city.
Phyllis Tyers of the West Point Grey Residents Association said her group is worried the scale of development proposals on both the former federal portion and the provincial government-owned property will influence the other through precedent.
“This is very concerning that the province is letting financial assumptions on potential scale of development lead the process rather than first consulting the local community,” Tyers said in an email to the Courier. “The question would be whether the province will sell just to balance budget and not get the best price. Many of us are obviously concerned who the buyer will be.”
The Courier requested an interview with Virk, but he was not available. Instead, a ministry communications staff person replied to questions via email, saying, “An appraisal is being done in order to have a fulsome up to date picture of the value of the property as part of our ongoing responsible real estate portfolio management. Specifics regarding the appraisal cannot be provided in order to protect the interests of the province and the integrity of the ongoing consultations.”
The staff person added that the province is fulfilling its legal duty to consult with First Nations regarding the future of the lands, and “out of respect for the First Nations consultation process, the intention is to conclude those consultations prior to making any commitments or taking any further actions with regards to the future of the lands.”
The Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, which partnered with the Canada Lands Corporation, purchased the federal portion of the lands for $237 million. The consortium has not said what it has planned for the property, or whether it is interested in buying the provincial portion.
Virk, however, said during the budget estimates debates in the legislature in April that “we’re happy to explore the opportunity with First Nations should an offer eventually materialize.”
Ultimately, no matter what is proposed, it will be up to the city to decide on land use of the property, which is currently zoned for single-family homes.
The government had an evaluation done in 2012 of the development potential of the Jericho Lands. But the report, obtained under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, was heavily redacted and gave no clues to what the property was worth or its potential for development.
The environmental investigation, meanwhile, is being done “as part of our due diligence as owners of the land,” according to the ministry’s response to the Courier.
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