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Overview of development in Tsawwassen, including massive suburban malls

Overview of development in Tsawwassen, including massive suburban malls
Nathan Pachal

Last Tuesday on my way to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, I noticed that major construction was taking place on Tsawwassen First Nation’s (TFN) land on the north side of Highway 17. I decided to look into what is going on in the area.

In 2007, the TFN signed a treaty with the federal and provincial governments which transfers the former TFN Reserve plus an additional 988 acres of land to the TFN under fee-simple ownership. Fee-simple is how the majority of private land is owned in Canada. The majority of the 988 acres was in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). As a result of the treaty, 355 acres of land was removed from the ALR and is now part of the TFN’s Industrial Land base. A further 180 acres was removed from the ALR and will now be used for auto-oriented, suburban shopping centres.

Since the treaty came into force and the TFN adopted their land use plan in 2011, development has been full-steam ahead.

ALR in Tsawwassen First Nation land. Brown colour is land included in the ALR. Salmon colour is land that was excluded from the ALR.

ALR in Tsawwassen First Nation land. Brown colour is land included in the ALR. Salmon colour is land that was excluded from the ALR.

The Neighbourhood Planning Area (see map below) which is sited on the former TFN Reserve is now called Tsawwassen Shores. This 270 acre project will have a mix of housing types (50% single-family, 35% townhouses, and 15% 5-storey or less apartments); include greenways, cycling paths, and walking facilities; and will included a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented village hub, which will include shops. The total population of this project is estimated to be 4,350 once fully built-out. This project appears to fit within the Metro Vancouver vision of building pedestrian-friendly nodes that can be connected with transit.

Tsawwassen First Nation's Land Use Plan

Tsawwassen First Nation’s Land Use Plan

The thing that disturbs me is the 1,100,000 square foot Tsawwassen Mills enclosed shopping mall, and 550,000 square feet Tsawwassen Commons Power Centre that are currently being built along the Highway 17 corridor. To put things into perspective, these two mall projects will have a similar amount of retail space as Metrotown Mall.

Looking at these two projects, I feel like I’m back in the 1960s when we ripped up farmland for shopping malls. These Tsawwassen projects do nothing to create a vibrant, walkable, urban community and certainly aren’t transit-oriented. It’s about getting people to drive their cars from one end of the region to the extreme southwest corner of Metro Vancouver to go shopping. In fact, the marketing brochure for Tsawwassen Commons talks about how the South Fraser Perimeter Road is one of the reasons why this project is viable. With that in mind, I have to wonder if the proposed expansion of the Massey Tunnel is part of the plan to open up suburban development in Delta and Tsawwassen.

Site plan for Tsawwassen Commons and Tsawwassen Mills.

Site plan for Tsawwassen Commons and Tsawwassen Mills.

I find it odd that while most former large, auto-oriented mall sites in Metro Vancouver are being redeveloped into more pedestrian, transit-friendly, and even mixed-use sites; that these Tsawwassen malls would even get past the concept stage in this day and age. What this shows me is the strong link between land-use and transportation systems. If you build billions of dollars’ worth of freeways, you’ll get massive auto-oriented shopping malls. Likewise, if you invest in rapid transit, you’ll get mixed-use, transit-oriented centres like what is happening along the Millennium Line SkyTrain in Burnaby.

To me, these Tsawwassen mall projects completely violate the vision of creating a livable Metro Vancouver. And it saddens me that this sort of development is still happening, away from regional town centres and away from transit corridors. These malls will create more congestion and pollution in Metro Vancouver. I also worry about how projects like these will take away potential retail opportunities and slow down growth in our regional town centres like Whalley.


  1. jim

    Did you consider that the redeveloping malls you mentioned — the ones that are now becoming our second-tier downtown nodes with transit and mixed-uses — would not be possible without the “auto-oriented” malls that were built on the one-time urban fringe?

  2. Curtis

    I would be interested to hear how Delta council feels about this proposed development and how much, if any, inclusion they have in the planning process.

  3. Jesse Hausner

    I don’t entirely disagree, but also think they are hoping to capture Ferry traffic and any way you slice it, the ferries will always be a car-centric mode of transportation simply due to where the terminals are on both sides. Also to build a mall in the flats, you can’t do underground so it is more difficult unless you do roof parking everywhere which ups the cost of construction considerably, to reduce the footprint and make it more pedestrian friendly.

    So while I do agree that I think we have enough malls and I would have liked to see a better design, I can understand why they are doing it and why it looks the way it does given the location. And until Metrotown and Guildford are more dense and pedestrian friendly (and Brentwood because let’s face it, Brentwood’s designs are mainly still on the drawing board as with Oakridge) it is difficult to expect a high level urban mall design out in the TFN.

    I still think it would be great to have an LRT line out to the ferries in Tsawwassen. Have it go from Richmond -> Ferries, then Ferries -> Scott Road following the SFPR. You’d hit south delta with it and provide a horizontal regional link between Surrey and Richmond. LRT because you don’t need the frequency or capacity of RRT.