ICBC sale of housing tied to First Nation’s plans for old hospital site, province says

BC's provincial insurance agency turned $40 million profit on Central Abbotsford rental complex.

By Tyler Olsen | February 11, 2022 |5:30 am

The sale of the Meadowood housing complex in central Abbotsford was part of a complex land swap tied to the return of the former MSA Hospital site to a local first nation, the provincial government now says. And one more domino may still be left to fall.

Last Wednesday, The Current revealed that the publicly owned Insurance Corporation of BC had sold Meadowood, a 220-unit rental housing complex on Clearbrook Road.

Although the province didn’t provide details of the sale for the initial story, a provincial spokesperson emailed a written statement this week saying the Meadowood site was sold to facilitate the transfer of nine acres of land on the other side of Abbotsford’s core 14 months prior.

In September 2020, Matsqui First Nation announced that Fraser Health and the province had returned land on McCallum Road that had once been home to MSA Hospital. The hospital had been torn down in 2009 following the opening of Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre the previous year. The property has sat vacant for more than a decade. (The site is 3.5 kilometres southeast from the Meadowood property.)

In the email, the province said that ICBC had previously considered selling the Meadowood site, and that the party was involved in the MSA Hospital land negotiations with Matsqui First Nation.

A provincial spokesperson wrote: “As a result of the inclusion of the ICBC properties in the negotiations with Matsqui First Nation, an agreement was reached that enabled them to purchase the former MSA Hospital site in their territory, returning that land to the Nation. Matsqui First Nation has indicated their redevelopment plans for the former hospital site include affordable housing.” The details of that agreement have not been released.

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The province also revealed that ICBC had originally purchased Meadowood in 2010 for $24.7 million. Last year, it sold the site for $65 million, turning a $40 million profit. The sale price puts the per-unit price at just under $300,000. The site contains 64 apartment buildings, 156 townhomes, and one single-family house. The province now says that ICBC’s investment portfolio doesn’t contain “any additional residential properties.”

The province also says there are more deals in the works.

“The land transfer is also helping facilitate other land deals that will support improvements to seniors care services in the region.”

Asked for details, a spokesperson wrote that the province is in the midst of negotiations regarding an “adjacent” property. “Negotiations over the property adjacent to the MSA hospital site are ongoing and as such, we are unable to provide further information at this time. It is our understanding that the deal being contemplated would help to expand seniors care in the area.”

Officials identified the site as on Cottage Lane. That likely refers to Cottage-Worthington Pavilion, a long-term care residence operated by Fraser Health. Fraser Health executives have long talked about redeveloping the ageing single-storey facility for years, with the aim of finally addressing Abbotsford’s severe shortfall of long-term care beds.

Matsqui First Nation didn’t respond to a request for comment, but have previously indicated they also hope the MSA Hospital site can be used for some health care uses.

In 2020, after the MSA parcel had been transferred, Stan Morgan, a member of Matsqui’s governing body, said the First Nation hoped to partner with Fraser Health on a health care-related project on the site. Morgan said then that the response had been mixed, with the government reluctant to spend money at the location.

But he added that the First Nation told the government, “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.”

Back at Meadowood, the property manager of the Meadowood emailed The Current this week to say the new owners have “no immediate plans” to develop the property.

“The owner recognized its importance to the Abbotsford community when it purchased the property,” an email said. “It looks forward to learning from the community and working with the City on the need and desire of the people and businesses of Abbotsford with respect to the future redevelopment possibilities of the property given its size and location.”

Housing Minister David Eby did not return The Current’s request for an interview when contacted last week. But during question period in the legislature on Thursday, Abbotsford-West MLA Michael de Jong asked Eby if the province had secured any guarantees for tenants.

Eby replied that the tenants were protected by the Residential Tenancy Act and cited changes to the law made by the NDP. He added that “to the best of my knowledge ICBC is not, as he alleges, engaging in real estate speculation.”

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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