First Nations announce development plans 

Squamish, Lil’wat Nations pleased with economic opportunities presented by legacy lands

click to enlarge Coming Soon An artist's rendering of the Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre, which will open in Whistler this summer.
  • Coming Soon An artist's rendering of the Squamish-Lil'wat Cultural Centre, which will open in Whistler this summer.

Squamish and Lil’wat Nations this week announced a development agenda for three of the seven properties they acquired under the Legacy Lands Agreement (LLA) struck with the province and the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 2002.

A comprehensive rezoning application covering all three parcels will be put to the municipality by the end of May. The subject properties consist of 32 acres above the Rainbow site, known as Alpine North, 10 acres at the former highways maintenance yard opposite Alta Vista, and five acres at the corner of Function Junction and Highway 99. The application will seek to have those properties rezoned to allow for a mixed housing development, residential use and commercial and light industrial use, respectively.

“The three projects, they’re for economic development purposes out of the Legacy Agreement with the province,” said Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob. “Our view of the world at the time when we were negotiating this was everybody else was getting legacies but us. As such, we set up a table with the province, and VANOC had representatives at the table, and we sought equivalency with others, including RMOW, for legacies. For us, getting the opportunity to reinstate ourselves back in the Whistler valley is a pretty important thing for us.”

While the Function Junction site is likely to include a service station, the other two sites will comprise all of the 452 market bed units agreed to by the RMOW in August 2005.

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed said the municipality is “quite pleased” with the service station idea. He said council and staff are committed to working with the First Nations in the hopes of processing the application by October.

A timeline for development of the three parcels has not been established.

Squamish and Lil’wat Nations reached a partnership agreement in 2001. Together, they’ll work on opportunities in the Sea to Sky region, not least of which is the Squamish-Lil’wt Cultural Centre in Whistler. According to Jacob, internal discussions between the two nations have produced a business plan that has them turning profit within the next three years. It’s possible some of that revenue from development may go towards operating the cultural centre.

“And that was pretty conservative,” he said. “We want to ensure that there’s no impact on our existing funding, that we can provide programs and services to our membership. The obvious thing for us to do would be to take some of the revenue from these three particular developments and stick it away in case it’s needed.”

Jacob said the culture centre is coming along well, and that completion is expected this summer.

“It’s absolutely marvelous,” he said. “The majority of the structure and the facility will be completed. There’s always minor things to be done, but, by and large, everything will be completed. We actually have a guy in there this week. He’s painting patterns on the floor in the main hall. It’s going to be a cultural journey as you come through the door. There’ll be a stream painted on the floor that you can follow as you go through.”

The Legacy Lands Agreement resulted in a total of 300 acres in Whistler for use by Squamish and Lil’wat Nations. Jacob said plans for the other sites are still coming together.

“The other four are longer term,” he said.

The other sites are in the Callaghan Valley and near Cougar Mountain. A golf course has been considered for the Callaghan property.

As part of the agreement, the Squamish and Lil’wat are supporting Whistler’s plans for boundary expansion.

Meanwhile, the two nations continue to look at enhancing their presence in other communities throughout the corridor, including Squamish and Pemberton.

“The cost of building, the cost of real estate, all those things we’ve been monitoring very closely,” Jacob said. “In Squamish Valley, for instance, we’ve been grading deals that see our membership get land for the long term. We have quite a bit of acreage, but probably 95 per cent of it is in the 100 or 200-year flood plain. As such, getting money to develop it for residential purposes from the federal government has proven hard.”

While Jacob is pleased with the pace of events, he said harnessing benefits from the 2010 Olympics has been hard work.

“As partners in the successful winning of the Games for 2010, everybody else’s legacies are going to be delivered for them, and, obviously, down this road on the development of land, we’re going to have to do an awful lot of work to see benefits returned to our community as one of the legacies.”

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