Opinion: The land of Jericho poses an opportunity

It is not often that I find myself in a Point Grey church hall seated between a lanky NDP MLA and former federal Liberal leadership candidate.

This was the case last week when I joined David Eby and Joyce Murray at a town hall to discuss the “impending sale and development” of the nearby Jericho Garrison property.

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I put impending sale and development in quotation marks since there has not been any formal federal announcement on the future of the lands.

However, last year it was reported that the lands were being sold by the Department of National Defence to Canada Lands Corporation (CLC) a federal crown corporation that oversees the disposition or development of federal surplus properties.

MP Murray recently met with CLC officials in Ottawa and thought some decisions were likely imminent. She organized a town hall meeting to begin a process of community input.

I was invited to provide a developer’s perspective on the future of the property and was surprised by the turnout. Given the hot sunny evening, I expected 20 people to show up. The number was closer to 200.

The 21 hectare Jericho Garrison extends from Highbury Street westward between West Fourth and Eighth avenues. A 15.5 hectare provincial government property is immediately to the west. The current federal uses are expected to end in 2017. Portions of the provincial lands are leased for community uses until 2020.

While there are fears that the federal government will do whatever it wants with the lands since this is the federal prerogative from a zoning perspective, previous CLC projects including Garrison Crossing in Chilliwack, Garrison Lands in Calgary, and Rockliffe in Ottawa have each gone through a planning process involving a considerable amount of community input.

However, just like the performance of your investment portfolio, whatever happened in the past may not necessarily happen in the future.

An issue related to these lands is the potential for native land claims. However, last year it was reported there had been a business agreement between the federal government and First Nations which would allow the sale of this property.

In advance of the meeting, I anticipated many wanted the lands to become parkland. Others would worry there might be a forest of highrises.

While I told the audience development was inevitable, there would be an opportunity for community input and redevelopment could be a good thing.Twenty-five years ago I rezoned the land immediately east of the Jericho Garrison. Based on that and subsequent discussions, I know there are many Point Grey, Kitsilano and Dunbar residents ready to move out of single family homes.

Most do not necessarily want to move to UBC or downtown. Instead they would like to remain closer to home. A planned community on the Jericho Lands could be a very attractive place to live.

I will never forget two conversations I had when I was developing the highrise at the corner of West Fifth and Highbury. One was with an older gentleman who asked why we developers always made the second bedroom in an apartment so small.

When I told him it was generally thought of as a den or guest room he stopped me. “No it’s not” he said. “It’s his bedroom!”

Ever since, whenever I build a two bedroom apartment for empty nesters and seniors, I include two master bedrooms.

The other conversation was with a longstanding Kitsilano resident seeking an upper floor view apartment. Unfortunately they were all sold. She responded how ironic it was that for decades she and her husband had been active in the community fighting against highrise buildings, but now that they were ready to move into one, they couldn’t find one.

I suggested to the audience that a new community on the Jericho lands should include smaller, cottage-style detached homes, condominium and individually owned townhouses, lowrise, midrise and highrise apartments, similar in scale to those in Kerrisdale. There should also be parks and an array of community facilities.

The remaining revenues from the sale of the land should be part of the federal contribution to improved rapid transit out to UBC.

michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
twitter.com/michaelgeller
 

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