Province offers millions to Musqueam in latest land dispute twist

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Property owners want to build 108-unit condominium complex

Mike Howell
Van. Courier

The Musqueam Indian Band says a Marpole property includes an ancestral burial site. Photograph by: Dan Toulgoet , Vancouver Courier

The provincial government has offered to give the Musqueam Indian Band at least $4.8 million to help resolve a land dispute with a Marpole property owner wanting to build a condominium development on what is believed to be an ancestral burial site.

The $4.8 million is owed to the band as per a previous agreement related to the government’s South Fraser Perimeter Road project in Delta and Surrey, which falls on traditional Musqueam lands.

“We’re happy to hear the province has agreed to [a cash deal] and we’re looking forward to moving forward with negotiations with the developer,” said Wade Grant, a Musqueam band councillor who worked with an assistant deputy minister to reach the deal.

Another sum that Grant expects to be “a little bit less” than the $4.8 million will be forthcoming from the government as per a similar agreement related to the Evergreen transit line.

Those two cash deals will be bolstered by a third agreement with government related to a project elsewhere in Vancouver, the details of which haven’t been finalized.

“It is further acknowledged that the accommodation ultimately paid to the Musqueam regarding this third project may exceed the amount necessary for Musqueam to acquire the condominium development site,” wrote Mary Polak, the provincial minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, in a letter to the band Wednesday.

Neither Grant nor Bob Ransford, a spokesman for property owners Gary and Fran Hackett and Century Group HQ Developments Ltd., would speculate on how much it would cost to satisfy all parties.

But Ransford said negotiations will not only have to look at the value of the acre-sized lot but money already spent in preparing the site on Southwest Marine Drive, near the Arthur Laing Bridge.

“We’re hopeful that we can come to a resolution on this,” Ransford said. “It’s been dragging on for a long period of time and it’s been upsetting for a lot of people.”

Polak said in her letter the government would provide “independent real estate mediation” during the negotiations, if required.

The Hacketts, who have owned the property for more than 50 years, were working with Century Group to build a 108-unit condominium complex with an underground parkade.

During the required archaeological dig of the well-known Canadian heritage site, the intact remains of two adults and two infants believed to be ancestors of the Musqueam were discovered.

Known as the Marpole Midden, the area was designated a Canadian heritage site in the 1930s and was once home to a Musqueam village.

The band began a protest outside the site May 3 and initially recommended a complex land swap with the development team, the provincial government and the city. The Musqueam wants to preserve the property and turn it into a public interpretive park in which remains and artifacts would not be disturbed.

Meanwhile, the protest will continue outside the property until all parties sign an agreement that sees the Musqueam acquire the land, said Cecilia Point, an organizer of the protest.

“We don’t know how much [the development team] is going to want for the land,” Point said. “So until the land is back in our possession, we’re not comfortable leaving the site.”

Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, have visited the property in support of the Musqueam.

Phillip was among protesters who recently blocked the north end ramps of the Arthur Laing Bridge for almost three hours to send a public message to government about the band’s desire to preserve the property.

The government’s offer to the Musqueam comes less than a week after it rescinded the permit to allow the developer to continue digging on the site.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer have publicly supported the Musqueam’s vocal protest, with both politicians signing a petition to leave the land undisturbed. Robertson also participated in a drum circle with protesters.

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