Breaking stagnation in Delta's development market
While the rest of the Lower Mainland has experienced unprecedented population growth and development over the past 15 years, Tsawwassen has barely budged.
That could soon change, however, as Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) is set to exercise a land use plan that will see the creation of more than 1,500 single-detached homes and townhouses, and 280 apartment units built on 99-year leaseholds over the next decade. The development also includes a school and 1.8-million square foot mega-mall.
“The ocean-side property is one of the most beautiful undeveloped sites in Metro Vancouver,” said Kevin Hoffman, vice president of Aquilini Development & Construction, adding the Aquilinis are planning several phases of development, the first being 19 detached homes. “The thing that really attracted us to this opportunity is the scale of opportunity and the location.”
Hoffman added that as a result Tsawwassen’s population could grow by 25 per cent once the entire residential project is completed. And with 662 hectares of treaty land, there could be more people living on TFN lands than in Tsawwassen several decades from now.
According to BC Statistics, Tsawwassen’s current population of around 21,000 represents a loss of 1,000 since 1996. Popular belief from the pro-development segment is that backslide is largely due to Delta’s fertile farmland, much of which is located inside the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), a provincial zoning authority which recognizes agriculture as the primary use.
Delta Chamber of Commerce Chair Kelly Guichon said the TFN plans represent the single biggest economic development engine at the present time.
“South Delta and all of Delta stand to gain from this growth,” she said, while adding it’s understandable some businesses in Delta, especially in Tsawwassen and Ladner, will be concerned about the future effects of commercial sector growth.
Former B.C. Supreme Court judge Wally Oppal, a Tsawwassen resident since 1998 and former B.C. Liberal Party candidate for Delta South, said the sudden, massive development plans on TFN lands probably wouldn’t have happened if Delta had allowed gradual growth over the years.
“This growth that is now being proposed at the First Nations community is there to fill the vacuum that’s been created.”
Oppal said his children grew up here and both are graduates of South Delta Secondary, but there’s no place for them to come back when they graduate from university.
“It’s a shame because it’s a great community. It has so much to offer,” he said, adding three school closures in the past decade indicates a dying community.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said the housing issue isn’t just a Delta problem, but something affecting the entire Lower Mainland.
She estimates there are roughly 3,000 secondary suites in South Delta, indicating a need for senior levels of government to find a housing solution for the next generation.
“In my particular case, my daughter and son-in-law and I all live in one house,” she said. “That’s our answer to the question.”
So, is it simply a matter of adding more houses? And will they be affordable enough for young people to move to South Delta?
Hoffman said Aquilini Development & Construction’s housing plans will create diverse and affordable housing choices in the area. The company is first out of the gate on TFN land, with two show-homes currently under construction and sales set to start in autumn.
Delta Coun. Sylvia Bishop acknowledges there is land in South Delta constantly under pressure to be developed, but doesn’t believe there’s a community appetite to build on farmland.
Nor does she believe Tsawwassen’s growth is stagnant, pointing to housing starts along 56th Ave., the 490-home Tsawwassen Springs development by Shato Holdings, and a 19-unit apartment building recently approved at Hunter Rd. and 12th Ave.
“There is growth through infill, there’s growth through amalgamation, and at some point you’re built out,” she said, adding the challenge is then to build up.
Though Bishop said she understands the need for housing and economic prosperity and development, there has to be a balance.
“It has to be the right development in the right place at the right time and for the right reason,” she said.
Jackson has seen Delta before and after the implementation of the ALR in 1972 and said it should stay. When some people don’t want to farm anymore, they can sell the land to another person who does.
“Because that land is valuable and the land will be here forever,” she said.
TFN’s development follows guidelines set out by the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy, and aims to meet objectives like protecting green areas, preserving land in the ALR, and achieving a compact metropolitan region to reduce commute times and generate jobs.
Oppal said he’s sympathetic to the difficulties facing Delta’s current council, and ultimately it’s the community that has to take ownership of the issue.
And although Oppal said it’s good to cherish farmland, all of South Delta is built on fertile farmland.
“I mean, if we’re really trying to preserve farmland maybe we should all move out,” he said.