City of Vancouver buys Arbutus Corridor for $55 million

Arbutus Greenway, artist rendering 

A years' long battle over the future of the Arbutus Corridor has been resolved in a $55-million deal between the City of Vancouver and Canadian Pacific railway.

The landmark agreement was announced at a press conference along the tracks near West Sixth and Fir Street Monday morning.

An artist rendering of the Arbutus Greenway.

“I’m very pleased to announce today, at long last, that the city and Canadian Pacific, CP, have reached an agreement that will secure the Arbutus greenway for public use going forward for the generations to come. It is now public land,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “That means after a lot of patience, a lot of commitment on both sides of the table, we can proudly say that we have an agreement that will benefit all residents of Vancouver into the future.”

Robertson called it a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the city.

“This is really Vancouver’s chance to have a New York-style High Line, a repurposing of what was freight railroad. This is kilometres of public space that’s accessible through our city for all residents to use and connecting many of our neighbourhoods,” he said.

The Arbutus Corridor stretches nine kilometres. Photo Rebecca Blissett.

Keith Creel, president and chief operating officer for Canadian Pacific railway, acknowledged the Arbutus Corridor had been a “very contentious issue” for CP and the city over the past decade.

“That said, the history of CP in Vancouver dates back to its origins — over 130 years. It’s been a positive relationship, it’s been one that we value… to be able to reach an agreement today, to be able to take this agreement that creates a win-win for both the City of Vancouver, as well as for Canadian Pacific and our owners, our shareholders, it elates us,” he said, adding that it paves the way for CP to “strengthen” its relationship with the city.

The city had argued the land was only worth $20 million, while CP insisted it was worth $100 million. Robertson said both sides finally agreed $55 million was “fair market value,” as the land is committed to be an active transportation corridor, possibly for light rail transit at the same time as a greenway for public use.

The Arbutus Corridor stretches nine kilometres. Photo Rebecca Blissett.

The city is using $20 million from its property endowment fund and $35 million from the capital facilities reserve fund to buy the 42-acres of land, which covers nine kilometres. The city and CP will spilt any revenue from the sale of any excess land. Land title documents were filed March 7 and the agreement is expected to be released publicly sometime this week, after legal steps closing the transaction are completed.

Robertson said the city is immediately establishing an Arbutus Greenway project office, which will oversee the design process and public input.

CP is expected to begin removing the track within the year, which it will use elsewhere in its operations. According to the deal, that work must be finished within two years. The city will be making improvements along the greenway while longer-term planning is underway. Robertson said gardeners are asked not to encroach on the land while planning takes place.

The first clue a deal was in the works came in late January when a Canadian Transportation hearing dealing with the Arbutus Corridor was suspended after the city and CP jointly asked for an adjournment.

On Monday, Robertson said the “historic” deal will create a “destination greenway” for Vancouver.

“It will be an incredible opportunity for people to walk and run and bike along the greenway connected False down to the Fraser River,” he said. “As mayor, I’m pleased to be able to resolve years of outstanding issues and to complete an agreement, which creates a transportation greenway in accordance with council’s 2040 transportation plan.”

Robertson said right now no development is envisioned, but the city is willing to go back out to the public to talk about how much land is needed for a train and a greenway that allows for walking, running and biking.

“If there are excess lands along the corridor, what those become — that’s a decision for a future council and the public to input on for the next four years as that process needs to take place,” he said.

The “rough” estimate to transform the land into a greenway is $25 to $30 million.

The deal between CP and the city ends a long drawn-out battle that started when CP announced it would no longer service Molson Brewery in 1999. It proposed developing it for commercial and residential use, but that sparked opposition from those who thought it should be used for public transportation like cycling or walking.

The city enacted the Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan, which designated the land for transportation, including rail and transit, or for greenways, following public hearings in 2000. But CP challenged the city's right to enact the plan through B.C. Supreme Court, which ruled against the city in 2002. The city appealed that decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal and it affirmed the city's authority. CP then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which upheld the city's position in 2006.

The fight started heating up again in July 2014 when CP warned residents near the Arbutus Corridor that they had to remove “encroachments” such as sheds and gardens on the property, while it explored options for the track, which it hadn’t used since 2001. CP started removing gardens in August 2014.

Canadian Pacific began clearing Arbutus Corridor in August 2014. Photo Dan Toulgoet

It stopped briefly after entering talks with the city, but those talks broke down in September 2014. In October of that year, the city filed a lawsuit challenging CP’s efforts to clear the land, but the court ruled against the city in January 2015. Clearing work continued in 2015. In July of 2015, CP announced it would soon start using the rail line to store and move railcars. In August, the city applied to the Canadian Transportation Association for two orders — to cancel CP’s April 14, 2014 amendment of its three-year plan, where they removed the Arbutus Corridor from the list of lines they intended to discontinue, and an order requiring CP to make an offer for the corridor at the 2004 net salvage value. The hearing was scheduled for Jan. 28 and 29 of this year, but didn't go ahead.

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