April 5, 2021

Challenges and Complications on South False Creek

Robert Renger passes along this article he penned for the Georgia Straight:

Renger has been active on the SFC file since I was on council in the 1990s.  At that time it was evident the City would face a dilemma when the leases expired on the city-owned lands developed as a mixed-income community in the mid-1970s (as seen in the cover shot).

The City was pulled between the interests of lease-holding residents who might be effectively evicted when their leases expired and returned to market value, and a significantly underutilized parcel of developable property that could be used for affordable housing, much less getting a return that benefitted all the taxpayers in the city.

Back then, some voices on the Creek wanted to make the politicians’ lives as unpleasant as possible in the hope that the land would be sold to the residents at a discount.* They were not well received.  But ever since both staff and political leaders have remained cautious and uncommitted in their comments.

The City laid out how it saw the challenge in 2017:

On May 16, 2018 Council approved the adoption of the False Creek South Provisional Vision Statement and Guiding Planning Principles.

Council also approved a pause in the neighbourhood planning process so that strata, co-op, and non-market lease negotiations can take place with residents before further detailed planning work for the area takes place.  (Which means any resolution may be punted until after the civic election, though that won’t stop it from being an issue.)

Council has also approved a Provisional Resident Protection and Retention Plan – “intended to create a safety net that can support resident and community retention in the event of resident displacement triggered by development, redevelopment, or end of lease terms.”

Members of the community have also done their own planning process – RePlan:

But one other complicating factor hasn’t yet been seriously raised.

Should this city-owned land be considered an opportunity for ‘Land Back’ – that is, returned to its rightful owners, the indigenous peoples whose unceded (or stolen) territory this is?  At least that’s how the issue will be framed by those who want to continue the momentum already established by everything from land acknowledgements to UNDRIP.

If you haven’t heard of ‘Land Back”, you likely will as it becomes an extension by implication and now more explicitly of the land acknowledgment.  Here’s an explanation in a Globe op-ed:

The leaders of this resurgent movement want nothing to do with the establishment Indigenous organizations that have been willing to negotiate further land surrenders in exchange for one-off payments and promises of marginally improved services.

“Land Back” means precisely what it sounds like: taking land back under Indigenous control and protection that was never legally ceded in the first place.

There are other precedents for return or transfer less severe than Land Back, from Jericho to Heather Lands, where some kinds of Crown land become available for acquisition and development by First Nations (who locally have the MST Development Corporation for that purpose).

Of course, there’s also the Sen̓áḵw development on lands adjacent to South False Creek, held outright by the Squamish with no controls by the City.

And since the Mayor has described the massive Sen̓áḵw development (unthinkable if proposed by any private developer) as a “gift to the city,” perhaps it would be a way out of the City’s dilemma if it sold the South Shore to MST – to both avoid the consequences of Land Back demands and to see an increase of housing on the South Shore that would be unlikely in a City-run process.  The City could roll over the leases for a short period so that residents and new leaseholders might then negotiate with First Nations (assuming of course that MST was interested in buying it).

As described in The Sun:

MST Development Corp…. was ranked No. 1 on Vancouver Magazine’s Power 50 list this week. The partnership is “poised to reshape the city, with a mixture of market and social housing, as well as some much-needed community contributions,” according to VanMag. …

Developers are increasingly looking to First Nations land as a way around a municipal development process that is mired in bureaucracy and largely failing to supply the market for housing, the industry says.

Ah, the irony.

But this scenario is only one of many that will likely emerge as both the lease-expiry deadline and a civic election collide with articulate parties competing for a city asset that becomes ever more attractive and contested territory.


*The discount, it was argued, would be justified by the state of contamination likely on the site, which was once home to some of the most polluting industries imaginable.  Back in the early ’70s, it wasn’t customary to do remediation on the scale of today.  And most likely, neither residents nor the City really wants to know how bad it is if it meant that the site would have to be cleared, the soils removed and the hazard eliminated.  Another complication.  And we haven’t even talked about sea-level rise.  


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  1. Gordon mentions that I have been active on the FCS file since the 1990s. True, and here’s why. I am a professional City Planner who in 1982 decided to “walk the talk” and bought a leasehold condo in False Creek South, a mixed-tenure mixed-income pedestrian-bicycle-transit-oriented model community I greatly admired. I could have bought a freehold single-family house instead. If I had done that I would be far richer now through tax-free capital gains, and I wouldn’t have abundant housing people mocking me for being an old white male planner defending a “failed” (in their eyes) community. But I believe in this community and think it should expand and evolve as outlined in my article and by RePlan, instead of being demolished for redevelopment.

  2. As to False Creek South, it is somewhat appalling that the “reward” for many urban pioneers who took a chance living on a brownfield renewal site is to be booted off it as they age and have their equity destroyed. If the city goes that route all new buildings here should be rental, as nobody would/should invest their money in buying now as the full implications of short leases become apparent.

  3. @ Robert Renger/Bob

    It’s interesting to me that people who are jealous of the residents of False Creek South demand that it be taken away
    from the residents who live there, rather than take up the cry that it should be repeated, and improved with knowledge
    and experience in as many places as possible. Better more development in the same way, rather than even more

  4. This land is our land, this land is your land. All the people. All Canadians are equal regardless of their race, colour, or creed… or when their ancestors happen to arrive.