Lease expiry puts Belcarra park land at risk
Belcarra's mayor is worried the heart could be carved out of one of Metro Vancouver's most picturesque parks if its fans don't speak up.
Ralph Drew says Belcarra Regional Park is a gem – he calls it the "Stanley Park of the northeast sector" – but warns there's a risk some of its waterfront could be developed.
A long-term federal lease from Parks Canada to Metro Vancouver has expired on the 75-hectare Admiralty Point Military Reserve, which makes up the park's southwest-facing waterfront, triggering a federal land disposal process under which Ottawa first considers if any other federal or provincial agencies need the property.
"It would be like taking the crown jewel out of the crown," Drew said.
"I just can't imagine another use than park. But the reality is that's wearing blinders. I don't want to wake up with a bad surprise."
The area is part of the traditional territory of the Tsleil Waututh First Nation and Drew said he'd be surprised if the band didn't demand a chance to buy the Admiralty Point land or include it as future treaty settlement lands.
"I haven't seen a piece of Crown land, federal or provincial, that First Nations haven't said they want," Drew said, noting the Squamish Nation wanted Stanley Park prior to a 2008 decision to renew its 99-year federal lease.
Aboriginal bands that buy fee simple property must abide by local and regional plans that designate it for park use.
But Drew noted that if the land was bought and then converted to Indian reserve status under Ottawa's controversial new additions-to-reserve process, existing land-use restrictions wouldn't apply and the band could build anything, including waterfront condos.
Another "distinct possibility", according to Drew, is that Port Metro Vancouver could ask for the property to add to its inventory of waterfront industrial land for eventual port expansion.
Port Metro Vancouver officials said they're not interested because the land lacks rail access.
Drew sounded the alarm on the issue this week after his council passed a resolution demanding the federal government either give or lease Admiralty Point to Metro Vancouver to preserve it as park in perpetuity for future generations.
Port Moody council is expected to consider a similar resolution next week.
"It's a critically important park asset for Metro Vancouver," Drew said. "Islands of beauty and refuge are rare commodities."
Admiralty Point was originally marked off for military use in 1860. Col. R.C. Moody figured its strategic location overlooking Burrard Inlet, Port Moody Arm and Indian Arm made it the ideal spot for a cannon to deter attackers heading for the colonial capital of New Westminster from the north.
It's been parkland for more than a century, since Ottawa leased it first to the City of Vancouver in 1913 and later to the regional district.
More than 900,000 people visit Belcarra Regional Park each year from all over the region and beyond.
But Drew noted development of Admiralty Point wouldn't just be a loss for Belcarra Regional Park, but would also be an eyesore visible across the water from Cates Park in North Vancouver and Barnet Marine Park in Burnaby.