Tseshaht purchases former mill parking lot to make way for residential housing | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Tseshaht purchases former mill parking lot to make way for residential housing

Port Alberni, BC

Tseshaht First Nation plans to transform a barren waterfront mill parking lot into residential housing. thanks to support from the provincial government and a purchase agreement from Western Forest Products.

On May 2  c̓išaaʔatḥ (Tseshaht) First Nation and Western Forest Products announced the completion of the sale of a parcel of Western’s private land located in Port Alberni to Tseshaht for residential development.

Under terms of the agreement, Wahmeesh, Tseshaht’s elected chief, Ken Watts, said that he could not discuss the purchase price for the 7.9-acre property. But he did say the purchase supports Tseshaht’s vision to build housing within the City of Port Alberni for its members and the broader community.

Watts and his council invited Tseshaht members to tour the property on May 2, which was formerly used as a parking lot by Western’s Alberni Pacific Division (APD) facility. The purchase does not include the adjacent mill but has nice views of the Alberni Inlet

Western Forest Products say they are exploring options for the APD facility property following the indefinite closure announced in April 2024. The mill’s operations ceased in early November 2022.

The purchase of the property was made possible thanks to an agreement made between Tseshaht and the Province of British Columbia in July 2023 that provided $5 million to Tseshaht for the purpose of purchasing lands.

“Governments, First Nations and the private sector working together to take action on reconciliation, returning land back to First Nations and addressing the housing crisis is the exact collaboration we all need,” Watts said in a written statement. “A huge Kleco, Kleco to the Province of BC and Western Forest Products for stepping up to the plate and working alongside our Nation as we move towards developing housing in our territories, now off-reserve, not only for our members but to support housing for all.”

The lot will be transformed into a residential neighborhood. Watts told Ha-Shilth-Sa that he envisions affordable and attainable housing for Tseshaht members and others. He says the plan is to build a 50-plus unit complex that will be a multi family apartment-style structure.

But first there are several steps that need to be taken, like rezoning the property.

“We have to do some city rezoning and [Official Community Plan] amendments as the land isn't zoned for multi-family housing,” Watts said.

In addition, the nation needs to complete funding applications to B.C. Housing and other agencies, which will take time.

“We are excited that we have started the important work of creating a non-profit housing society and will be staffing and building the capacity to move on next steps of developing the land including (finding) funding, consulting and other partners,” said Watts. “Today we celebrate as we move on to next steps with the property, the creation of our Tseshaht Housing Society, and acquire other lands, together moving forward as one.”

“We are pleased to have identified an opportunity that fulfills an important objective for the Tseshaht First Nation to address housing supply and supports the community’s growth and development,” said Steven Hofer, president and CEO of Western Forest Products. “We look forward to seeing this property transition into a thriving, vibrant residential development in support of reconciliation, while providing lasting positive impacts in Port Alberni more broadly.”

“Through this agreement with Western Forest Products, Tseshaht First Nation is providing vital housing supply to the residents of Port Alberni,” said Murray Rankin, the provincial minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “Partnerships like this one, built through mutual respect and a commitment to reconciliation, help communities across B.C. to thrive. I extend my congratulations to Chief Watts and all those involved in this exciting step forward.”

“Governments at all levels are struggling to find solutions to our housing crisis which is why agreements such as this one between Tseshaht First Nation, the Province and Western Forest Products is so transformative,” said City of Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “It recognizes the evolution in our relationship with First Nations as rights-holders and partners while also providing much needed land to build housing for Tseshaht members and the broader community, breathing life into a vacant, waterfront parcel of land that has sat idle for more than two years.”

Tseshaht First Nation, c̓ išaaʔatḥ, has over 1,300 registered members whose ḥaḥuułi includes from the Somass watershed including the entire Alberni Valley, the western portions of both Horne Lake and Cameron Lake, the Alberni Inlet, and surrounding lands and watersheds to the Broken Group Islands of central Barkley Sound, and out to the Pacific Ocean.

According to Chief Watts, Tseshaht leadership are exploring other lands with other land holders to purchase for the same purpose.  

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