B.C.'s premier has vowed to keep the Riverview Hospital lands green and save any trees on the historic Coquitlam site.
Christy Clark made the pledge last week while she was in the riding of Coquitlam-Burke Mountain to promote BC Liberal byelection candidate Joan Isaacs.
Clark told The Tri-City News she understands the anxiety in the community as BC Housing, which manages Riverview, starts to firm up the vision for the century-old property after more than two years of consultation.
(The public has until Feb. 12 to comment online about the future of the 244 acres that were once the centre for the province's mental health care.)
"Are we going to preserve the green space? There's a real quick answer to that: Yes, we are," Clark told The Tri-City News last Friday. "We are committed to preserving that green space,,, and all the trees on that site. That's our goal."
Clark's words came the day after the city of Coquitlam's Riverview Lands Advisory Committee discussed the BC Housing visioning document, which was released last month when BC Housing Minister Rich Coleman announced plans to tear down Valleyview Hospital at Riverview and build two new mental health facilities to replace three mental healthcare centres in Burnaby.
The document — a guide that lays out four precincts at Riverview that include zones for health and economic development — was largely met with disappointment by the city committee last Thursday.
Diane Thorne, the former NDP MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville and a committee member, said the report failed to include the city's wishes to turn Riverview into a full mental health campus.
But Clark contended the government also wishes to return Riverview to its former glory.
"I remember [as a Tri-City MLA] that people's number-one concern was to return it to its original purpose and keep the trees. Those are things we intend to do on that site," she said.
As for the heritage buildings — which the government has been criticized for neglecting — Clark said she hasn't delved into the costs to restore the aging structures but "my assumption is that we'll be able to protect them all."
The premier also remarked on the government's efforts to work with the Kwikwetlem First Nation (KFN), which has staked a claim to the Riverview lands.
Clark said the government is "trying to work with everybody" for the redevelopment.
Still, at committee, Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said he "suspects" the band is flexing its muscle following its 2014 deal with the province, when KFN pocketed $8.2 million for extinguishing its aboriginal rights to 584 acres of Crown land on Burke Mountain (money from the sale of the surplus lands was used to balance the books before the 2015 throne speech).
Stewart said KFN's mandate — as outlined in the BC Housing visioning document — was a "tremendous blow" for the future of Riverview but he believes the band wants a financial settlement to "right its wrongs."
As for any potential market housing at Riverview, Stewart said the community needs to stand strong to send a message to the government.
• To comment on the vision for Riverview by the Feb. 12 deadline, go online to renewingriverview.ca.