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SLRD approves major Lil’wat Nation housing development

The mixed-use development could put a ‘significant dent’ in the Nation’s housing list

A major mixed-use development at the intersection of Highway 99 and Pemberton Portage Road, which will see 53 affordable housing units and six commercial spaces created in two separate buildings on Mount Currie’s Main Street, is moving forward.

On April 19, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) approved a rezoning application for the Lil’wat Nation’s Main Street Development (along with a related housing agreement bylaw for the new housing units).

Lil’wat Nation chief administrative officer Kerry Mehaffey said the development will help alleviate some of the housing challenges the Nation is facing, and provide much-needed services within walking distance to the populated centre of Mount Currie.

“The project is important first and foremost because of the housing needs in the Lil’wat community,” Mehaffey said in an email.

“There are other benefits that include the ongoing transformation of ‘downtown’ Mount Currie, which includes the new gas station, Ts’zil Learning Centre and Lil’wat Marketplace Development. These projects each serve the community in different ways. The creation of new housing is a significant priority for the Nation.”

The development will have 36 units of affordable housing, defined as units where rent cannot exceed 30 per cent of a person’s income, and 17 units of moderate-income housing.

The 36-unit South Building will be constructed first, and will comprise 10 studio apartments; 14 one-bed units; two one-bed accessible access units; five two-bed units; and five three-bed units, along with five commercial spaces on the ground floor of the development. The Lil’wat Nation is working on securing capital funding from BC Housing for the build.

The 17-unit North Building will come second, and have five live-work, one-bedrooms; 12 one-bedroom units; and one commercial space. The entire development will be able to house between 100 and 120 people at complete buildout.

“The sheer number and type of units is unique for a project in the community. The majority of our housing stock is single-family homes, and this will fill a need for singles, couples and small families,” Mehaffey said. “The Nation is generally funded to build a smaller number of units, but we are hoping that the scale of this project puts a significant dent in our housing list.”

Under the housing agreement bylaw, priority for the affordable units will go to Lil’wat Nation members first, followed by neighbouring First Nations. Following that, the units will be available to people employed in the SLRD electoral areas, and lastly, those who work in Pemberton and Whistler.

SLRD Area C Director Russell Mack represents the Mount Currie Commercial Area, and welcomed the approved housing project, citing the need for more commercial services and addressing some of the housing challenges the Lil’wat Nation is dealing with.

“[The housing situation is] no different than anywhere else,” Mack said. “They’ve got a number of people that don’t even live on reserve; they either live in Vancouver, the Lower Mainland or wherever because there just is no housing... So I think [the development] will be really good.”

The Lil’wat Nation plans to establish a non-profit housing society to manage the affordable rental units, while the SLRD will maintain the administration of the housing covenant.

Under the new zoning, various businesses or services can occupy the commercial spaces, including banks, offices, restaurants, medical clinics, community halls, and libraries. According to Mehaffey, a First Nations Health-Care Centre is one of the primary services the Nation hopes to have in the development.

“Our true hope is that we are able to place a First Nations Led Primary Health Care Centre in the commercial space in partnership with the First Nations Health Authority,” Mehaffey said.

“We may also look to community entrepreneurs or our Nation-owned businesses to fill the space. We feel that there are a lot of opportunities in the area.”

The development will include a small park with a playground, a community garden for residents, and 110 parking stalls for commercial and residential users.

Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said he is excited about the development, and praised the Lil’wat Nation for leading the charge on developing housing in Mount Currie and across the entire Sea to Sky region.

“Across the territory, I’m excited about seeing Lil’wat projects move forward. I think it’s critical. It’s important to me,” Crompton said.

A development permit will still need to be approved by the SLRD before construction begins on the project.

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