University Golf Course to be handed over to Musqueam

Isn’t it ironic that the University is now the the valiant protector of parkland in the face of development and the Musqueam are the rabid private interest group?

From today’s Globe and Mail:

Gary Mason
June 14, 2007
VANCOUVER — One of the most prime pieces of real estate in the country, home to one of the oldest public golf courses in the city, is expected to be handed over to the Musqueam Indian band as part of a controversial land-claims agreement.

If the deal for the 120-acre University Golf Club goes ahead, constituents in Premier Gordon Campbell’s upscale west-side riding, which encompasses the land, will be forced to take some kind of action, one former University of British Columbia official predicted yesterday.

“I can tell you right now it will have a dramatic impact on any provincial election,” said Bob Hindmarch, a retired director of athletics at the university.

“Gordon’s constituents are going to be furious. I simply can’t believe the provincial government would do this but that’s what we’re hearing is going to happen.”

Mr. Hindmarch isn’t the only person who has heard a deal is in the works. Word has begun buzzing throughout the development community too, and sources suggest the current worth of the land is $5-million an acre.

As well, some of the university’s top patrons have been tipped off and have quietly begun to mobilize forces to fight the move when it is officially announced next month.

The Musqueam have laid claim to vast tracts of the city, including land on which the University of British Columbia and University Golf Club sit. The land is some of the most valuable property in the country.

It has long been accepted that any land-claims agreement with the Musqueam would be extremely costly simply because of the value of the land to which they have laid claim.

The university bought the golf club from the province in 2003 for $11-million over the objections of the Musqueam, who wanted the property included in any land-claims negotiations. The land has a covenant on it that stipulates the property be used for a golf club, which is why it sold for only $11-million when it would be worth hundreds of millions if it was ever redeveloped for residential or commercial use.

In March, 2005, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned an earlier Supreme Court of B.C. decision that upheld the sale. The appeal court ruled that the provincial government breached its duty to consult and accommodate the band before transferring title to the property.

Two of the three appeal court judges agreed that the order-in-council authorizing the sale should be suspended for two years while the parties tried to reach an agreement.

Details of the anticipated deal between the Musqueam and the provincial and federal governments for the golf club are virtually non-existent.

However, one university source said the government would repay the university the money it paid for the course in 2003 plus interest. The land would then be transferred to the Musqueam, who would be required to operate it as a golf course for a set period of time.

“But I guarantee you the Musqueam could and will get out of whatever covenant is placed on the course,” said one source. “And if they redevelop that land it will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to them. It’s one of the finest pieces of real estate anywhere in the country, let alone the city.”

It’s true. But to the federal and provincial governments, the golf club represents a fairly quick and easy solution to the land-claims dilemma it faces with the Musqueam. As mentioned, the band’s claim covers vast tracts of the city, including some of the most expensive residential property in the country. The government has no intention of turning either the university or any private residences over to the band, so the golf course offers an attractive alternative.

But handing the golf course to the band will likely have to come with a fair whack of cash as well.

Calls to Musqueam band leaders were not returned yesterday. The provincial government refused to comment on the story.

The Musqueam claim has been the great elephant in the room on the land-claims front. Reaching agreements with bands in remote areas of the province is one thing, coming to terms with one laying claim to large chunks of one of the most expensive cities in the world is quite another.

“The university would have kept that golf course a golf course forever,” Mr. Hindmarch said. “The idea that the province would take it away from the university and give it to the Musqueam without securing its future as a golf course in perpetuity is unthinkable.

“But that’s what we’re hearing. And like I said, if this thing goes ahead there are going to be tons of irate people. I guarantee you. I’ve talked to a bunch of people about this already and they’re very upset. This has greater implications.”


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