Crown land sale pings aboriginal radar
The province has very little urban Crown land available to offer in treaty negotiations with First Nations to settle unresolved land claims in Metro Vancouver.
So Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's budget announcement that B.C. will raise money by selling off a 15-acre parcel of surplus land in the middle of Surrey has raised eyebrows among treaty negotiation observers.
"It's an interesting move on their part since Crown land is so scarce," First Nations Summit spokesman Dan Smith said. "We'll see whether or not this takes place."
Metro Vancouver has previously raised concern the province may – because it has so little property to negotiate with – raid more farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) or even take from civic or regional parks to settle future treaties.
Unlike the ALR land turned over for the Tsawwassen Treaty, the vacant parcel in Surrey, near the northwest corner of 152 Street and Highway 10, is zoned for commercial/multi-family residential and surrounded by existing homes and businesses.
The Katzie First Nation, based in Pitt Meadows, has signalled its interest in the Surrey property, which had once been considered a possible hospital site.
"We have written a letter requesting consultation but there has been no formal consultation," Katzie chief negotiator Debbie Miller said.
"There are very few urban Crown land parcels within any area of Katzie traditional territory."
The Katzie are negotiating an agreement-in-principle and are in talks with the province over what lands would become Katzie treaty land.
The traditional territory over which the Katzie claim aboriginal rights and title covers all of Surrey, White Rock, Delta and Pitt Meadows, as well as much of Maple Ridge, Langley, Port Coquitlam and the entire Pitt River watershed.
Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird said bands in treaty talks typically oppose the sale of nearby Crown land to keep their acquisition options open.
She said the fact urban Crown land is so rare means First Nations pursuing treaties may well look at more distant land.
A government spokesperson said First Nations would be consulted ahead of any Crown land sales, which won't begin until 2013 and won't include land offered in treaty talks.
More than $700 million is to be raised by selling more than 100 surplus properties, but the province won't disclose where they are or how many are in the Lower Mainland.
Metro Vancouver aboriginal affairs committee vice-chair Ralph Drew predicts that if the province does proceed, the Katzie might have an option to buy the Crown land in Surrey at market value ahead of anyone else.
"It's a prime economic development opportunity, I would think, given its location," said Drew, the mayor of Belcarra.
If the Katzie bought it, Drew said, the band could – even without a treaty – convert it into an Indian Reserve with tax-free status and exploit new federal rules that provide much more scope for commercial and industrial development of reserves.
Surrey would have no control over what is built there because it would no longer be part of the city and the Official Community Plan would not apply. Nor would the city receive property tax on the development.
The band would levy taxes on building tenants but how much it remits to the city would depend on what kind of servicing agreement is negotiated, if any.
Converting newly acquired land to a reserve is allowed through the federal government's relatively new additions-to-reserve policy.
The spectre of instant Indian Reserves popping up in the midst of local cities is not just a theoretical possibility.
Drew said the Tsleil-Waututh band, for example, has made clear it intends to convert any land it buys in North Vancouver to reserve status.
The Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee (LMTAC) has argued the federal additions-to-reserve policy should be revised so acquired land can be converted only if it is contiguous to an existing reserve.
"There's got to be some common sense rules here that don't create a patchwork quilt of jurisdiction," Drew said.
LMTAC has also sought reform to ensure cities are fairly compensated for any impacts and that First Nations can't undercut their tax rates. It also argues bands shouldn't be allowed to use newly created reserves to build condos for market housing.
Drew said cities like Surrey and Burnaby have largely ignored the issue because they have no reserves, but added they should pay more attention.
15-acre parcel of Crown land in Surrey slated to be sold by the province.
Sell-off criticized by NDP
New Democrats criticized the planned sell-off of Crown land as a short-sighted move in the Legislature Thursday.
"It's like selling your mother's jewelry to pay for the groceries," said NDP MLA Harry Bains (Surrey-Newton.)
"How many other properties in Surrey and other cities are on the chipping block so they can pay for their failed economic policies?"
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said releasing the list would undermine the province's ability to get top dollar.
But the provincial budget indicates some of the surplus land to be sold was acquired by the province for "the development of transportation corridors."
NDP MLA Guy Gentner (North Delta) said that suggests the province will sell land it bought but did not use in the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road in Delta and Surrey or possibly BC Rail corridor land in south Delta.
He said the 15-acre parcel in Surrey should be retained since it is strategically positioned in the middle of B.C.'s fastest growing city.