Monday, November 26, 2007

How Much Is The Heart Of A Park Worth?


As we have been bleating for sometime now, it was the very public heart of Pacific Spirit Park that was served-up on a skewer as a sop to 'save' a very private golf course on the University Endowment Lands on the far Western edge of Lotuslandia.

But just how much is the heart of an urban forest worth these days anyway?

Well, Miro Cernetig of the Vancouver Sun takes a stab at figuring it out:

Let's forget the value of the university golf course, for now, which is generally the focus of what appears to be a $1-billion-plus land deal. Instead consider the potential worth of a few of the other, smaller packages of land the province will transfer to the Musqueam, likely by the new year. (Warning: there's a lot of numbers going forward, but it's worth the effort if you want to get a sense of what the province's "new relationship" with aboriginals is going to cost.)

First let's take a look at the 8.5 hectares that will be cut out of Pacific Spirit Park, just west of the UBC golf course, and transferred to the Musqueam as "fee simple" land, just like any other real estate owned by a private citizen or company. Under the agreement, 7.3 hectares of this land will be available for the same sort of multi-family developments in the surrounding neighbourhoods in the university's endowment lands.

This translates into the Musqueam being given 1.139 million square feet of what developers call "developable" land, enough space to build about 2,000 apartments.

Now, like any land developer, the Musqueam First Nation must open their chequebook, or secure financing, before they can capitalize on this real estate.

To prime the land for development, the Musqueam would have to cut down the old trees, grade the land and service it with roads, sewers and other infrastructure. That would likely cost between $15,000 to $30,000 per dwelling, "or door," estimate developers. So let's split the difference and say it would cost the Musqueam $25,000 per unit, or about $50 million to prepare the land for condos or housing.

But then the Musqueam could sell the land to developers for about $200 a square foot, or about $225 million. That would be a profit of about $175 million.

Yes, you read that right - $175 million!

Now, it's important to point out that Mr. Cernetig actually leads with the following, about who will make all the money of this hunk of precious forest-lined myocardium:

If you want to see the people who now stand to make it rich in Vancouver's real estate development, don't look for the usual wheeler-dealers in expensive suits and flashy cars. These days you should check out the men, women and children of the Musqueam First Nation, long a pocket of poverty smack in the heart of one of the city's richest neighbourhoods.

Which is at least half true, I suppose, as far as it goes.

And I do not begrudge the Musqueam a penny of it.

What I find particularly infuriating, however, is that all of that money could have just as easily been generated from a strip along the edge of the (non-public, non-park, fully-private) golf course right here, right now.

And then there is something else to consider in the 'wheeler-dealer/suit/flash' department as well.

Which is the fact that developers are currently getting $600 a square foot (or more) for condos on the UEL and the surrounding (also formerly public) UBC lands as well.

So, from that, here's a little simple math....... $600 - $200 (purchase price) - $200 (development costs) = $200 potential profit for each and everyone of those buildable square feet that Mr. Cernetig describes above.

Thus, it might also be worth considering which provincial political party is a favorite of those very same wheeler-dealers in the suits with the flash who are likely to make just as much green, if not more, than the Musqueam for absolutely no good reason, historical or otherwise, at all.


Image is a stand of maturing second growth cedar deep within the wounded heart of the Park on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon.


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