The Musqueam Indian Band’s goal to build a memorial park in Marpole on land believed to be an ancestral burial ground still has a major hurdle to overcome: the purchase of the multi-million dollar property from the owners.
After more than three months of discussions with the owners’ developer, the Musqueam have been unable to reach a financial deal for the acre-sized property on Southwest Marine Drive.
The lack of progress in negotiations was cited in a provincial government news release issued Friday that announced a permit to alter the site would not be extended.
That means Century Group HQ Developments Ltd. and property owners Gary and Fran Hackett cannot build a planned 108-unit condominium complex on the property.
The development team is also required to return the property to its original condition, including covering up the intact remains of two adults and two infants discovered on the grounds earlier this year.
The Musqueam believe the remains are those of their ancestors who lived in the area. The Marpole Midden was designated a Canadian heritage site in the 1930s for its First Nations significance. The government’s decision not to extend the permit led to band members and supporters loudly rejoicing outside the site over the weekend with singing and drumming.
Despite the decision, the government says it has no plans to compensate the property owners or seize the land and turn it over to the Musqueam.
The government has left it to the band and the development team to negotiate a deal that appears to be out of reach if the Musqueam refuses to increase the purchase price.
Musqueam band councillor Wade Grant said the band presented a written offer three weeks ago to the development team but were told the price was too low.
Grant wouldn’t discuss the price but confirmed the amount did not consider the development team’s costs associated with the preparation of the site, advertising and pre-sales.
Bob Ransford, a spokesman for Century Group and the Hacketts, described the band’s offer as more of “a letter with some discussion about the property.”
“There’s a difference between putting a letter out and saying some things in a letter and making a real estate offer,” he said.
Both the Musqueam and the development team have not closed the door on future negotiations for the purchase and sale of the land, they said. “I think everybody understands [the Musqueam] want to own it and we’ve acknowledged that if we can sell it to someone, that would compensate us for the loss of use,” Ransford said.
The provincial government told the Courier in an email Monday the developer “is free to re-apply for a site alteration permit on the property, except for the relatively small area where the remains were found.”
When told of the government’s statement, Ransford said he hadn’t examined the “legal nuances” of the decision. “But I think it would be pretty hard to build something on the site without altering the site,” he added.
The Musqueam’s band council decided at a meeting Monday night that it wanted to be involved in the process to cover up the remains. Grant said the band will contact the development team about the request.
Ransford, meanwhile, is concerned what the government’s decision means for private property owners in British Columbia undertaking development of their land.
“Every private property owner in B.C. needs to be concerned that today if there’s any potential for archeological finds on their property and they’ve followed the process that’s laid out in law, they could end up with the use of their property being expropriated without compensation,” Ransford said.
He wouldn’t say whether his clients will seek legal action.
The response from the provincial government on the issue was that it “recognizes and respects private property rights and also recognizes the need to protect First Nations heritage resources.”