By Mina Kerr-Lazenby
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
S?wx?wu7mesh ?xwumixw (Squamish Nation) has put forward ambitious plans to develop 350 acres of its land, with work primarily taking place on the North Shore.
The plans focus on a pair of North Shore locations, including the Marine Drive area of Xwmelch’sten Capilano I.R. No. 5 near Capilano Road, and the Ch’ich’elx?wi7 ?w Seymour Indian Reserve No. 2 near Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing. Development is also slated for the Sunshine Coast at the Ch’ ?w’elhp Indian Reserve No. 26, and at the Sta7mes Indian Reserve No. 24 in the District of Squamish.
During the announcement on Wednesday morning, Squamish Council Chairperson Khelsilem said the council would be placing a one-year pause on receiving third party development proposals.
He said the break will give the Nation the space to work closely alongside its affordable housing provider Hiy?am? Housing, and its development corporation Nch’k?ay?, to develop land use strategies and to help fund infrastructure projects.
Mindy Wight, CEO of Nch’k?ay?, said the Nation is issuing an expression of interest to identify firms who can help them develop a plan for the lands, one that maximizes both the potential financial value of the area and the benefit to the community.
Not only will they be selected for their ability to do the job, she said, but for their “demonstrated commitment to reconciliation” and for their ability to build “long term trusted relationships” with Indigenous communities.
The development _ which will include the International Plaza site in the area of Xwmelch’sten Capilano I.R. No. 5, and the Lynnwood Marina in North Vancouver, will be split between residential and industrial, with long range capital plans focusing on the implementation of affordable housing and community amenities like healing centres, elder centres, health care clinics, community centres, schools and parks.
“In addition to the housing shortage, the Lower Mainland also has a pressing shortage of industrial land, which is an impediment to economic growth and to Canada’s access to our most important export market,” said Wight.
With the year-long plan being in its beginning stages, Khelsilem said details are still to be decided upon, with the Nation unable to say for certain how dense the development will be and what time frame they are working with.
Whether the extent of development will echo the Nation’s previous high-density project Sen?a?w, at Kits Points in the City of Vancouver, is unclear, but the project will follow suit in regards to who is behind the steering wheel.
The First Nation will have sole control over the decision making, but will follow Sen?a?w as a template in regards to how it works alongside local municipalities.
“Squamish real estate on the North Shore of Burrard Inlet has some of the most important real estate opportunities in the Lower Mainland, if not in the entire country,” said Khelsilem.
“Together, the Nation’s real estate assets represent an opportunity to reshape the entire region of the North Shore in the Lower Mainland, but also to work with other jurisdictions for the betterment of all our communities.”
Khelsilem said the Nation has “wonderful relationships” with West Vancouver and the City and District of North Vancouver based on “mutual respect and reconciliation.”
City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan said she “fully supports” the Squamish Nation in its plans as “the rightful decision-makers” of the land.
“This is an important step forward for the Nation in advancing self-determination and prosperity for generations to come. I look forward to continuing our work as partners on shared priorities, such as transportation across the North Shore and beyond,” she said.
District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little said it was too early to comment on the plans, given the lack of specifics given by the Nation. However, the District would “work with them to find a suitable servicing agreement, to make sure that they have services necessary for those areas.”
Mark Sager, Mayor of West Vancouver, said the council have a “nice working relationship” with the Nation.
“We’re obviously very pleased that they’re doing that work, and we’re certainly happy to help or participate to any extent they wish,” he said. “We’d be irresponsible if we didn’t offer all the assistance we can.”
Alongside the municipality input, Khelsilem said there will also be plenty of opportunity for community engagement.
“I think there will be a lot of questions, and there will be a lot more opportunities to answer those,” he said.
“The big message here is that there will be an exploration of ideas, and our community is critical in being a part of that exploration. It is a joint effort, between leadership, Hiy?am?
Housing, Nch’k?ay?, and the community,” he said.
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.