The former site of MSA Hospital on McCallum Road has been unused for more than a decade. That could change soon now that the land has been handed back to the Matsqui First Nation. (File photo)

The former site of MSA Hospital on McCallum Road has been unused for more than a decade. That could change soon now that the land has been handed back to the Matsqui First Nation. (File photo)

Matsqui First Nation plan rental housing at former MSA hospital site in central Abbotsford

First Nation governing body member says return of property is a ‘win-win-win’

The Matsqui First Nation hopes to build rental apartment units on a nine-acre piece of land on McCallum Road, a member of the band’s governing body says. And Stan Morgan says Matsqui also hopes that Fraser Health revisits its initial plan to build a health-care facility on the site.

The nine-acre site would have enough room to spur the biggest infusion of rental housing Abbotsford has seen in decades.

Last week, the First Nation announced that Fraser Health and the province had turned the McCallum Road site of the former MSA Hospital over to the band.

The land has sat empty since the opening of the new Abbotsford Regional Hospital and subsequent demolition of the old hospital. Although Fraser Health initially hoped to build a community health centre and hundreds of residential care beds on the site and issued requests for proposals on the matter, it later abandoned those plans and moved to dispose of the site.

That was when Matsqui First Nation became involved, Morgan told The News. In recent decades, First Nations around the province have been trying to reclaim land that their people had once controlled and used to support themselves. Matsqui hoped to do the same, but had few options in a region that was mostly private farmland, parkland or already developed.

“Matsqui has been working real hard over the past 15 years to work on acquiring land bases back,” Morgan said. “It’s a difficult endeavour because you can only go after Crown parcels [and] there’s very little Crown land left in this territory.”

So when Fraser Health signaled its intention to dispose of the McCallum Road property, the local First Nation saw a chance to claim back a portion of its traditional territory, which stretches from the Fraser River to south of the U.S. border.

“It’s one of the few shots we’ve had in my lifetime to actually get land base back,” Morgan said.

The process took years, but Morgan said most of that involved stick-handling through government bureaucracy while consulting with other stakeholders – including other area First Nations.

“It’s been a lot of back and forth,” he said. “You want to make sure that everybody comes out feeling that it’s a win, and I think that’s been our main goal from the beginning – to make sure it’s a win-win-win.”

He said the deal should please everyone.

“When you think about the government of B.C. and its reconciliation initiatives, it crosses that one off. It gives Matsqui back a core piece of land where they can develop it and realize some economic benefits. And it also helps the city because it has been a piece of un-utilized land for the last decade.”

The land will remain within the City of Abbotsford and its rules will guide how it is developed in the years to come. Matsqui, meanwhile, intends to hold onto the entirety of the parcel.

The First Nation has partnered with a Vancouver development company to create a mixed-use project on the site. It would include rental housing, commercial and institutional uses.

“We need to look at the existing zoning and it maps out where we can go for now,” Morgan said. “We do want to do a bit of mixed uses, we want to do some commercial.”

The land is designated as “urban1/midrise” in the city’s 2016 Official Community Plan. That allows for buildings up to six storeys tall, with some associated commercial uses.

The density permitted on nine acres could allow for as many as 1,000 apartments to be built on the site, although that figure would be dependent not only on the size of the units, but also on a range of other factors, including the inclusion and amount of commercial, and the prospect of density bonusing provisions through community contributions.

Morgan said Fraser Health is welcome to rejoin the discussions.

“The other thing is we have never shut the door to talks with Fraser Health Authority as well because initially they were going to partner with us on a subdivision on the parcel and develop a community health centre for the region, which we thought was an excellent idea.

“Since then, government has changed policy – they’re not entertaining any kind of capital expenditures – but we said, ‘This is going to be a long project so if in two years you change your mind, please come back and knock on our door.’

“We’re really hoping that does come to light because that would be excellent not only for Matsqui citizens but also for citizens of Abbotsford.”

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