The City of Vancouver is pursuing the idea of buying real estate in some of Vancouver’s most expensive areas, but the exact price tag for taxpayers remains unknown.
Estimates of the value of Granville Island and CP Railway’s asking price for the Arbutus Corridor could mean a combined $345-million cost.
Last week, Vancouver City Council approved a motion to purchase or leasing Granville Island from the federal government’s Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
The move comes as the federal government is preparing to transfer management and ownership of the Island to Port Metro Vancouver, another federal crown corporation.
CMHC has operated and maintained 38-acre Island since 1972 when the redevelopment project began on converting the industrial area into a thriving arts and cultural precinct. However, the Island is in need of reinvestment: funding is needed for critical maintenance of its buildings and public areas.
In 2016, Emily Carr University of Art & Design will also be vacating its Granville Island premises to a new campus at the False Creek Flats, spurring the need for long-term vision and leadership to govern the island.
Financial capacity and leadership is what Port Metro Vancouver could provide to Granville Island, and it also operates Canada Place – another major tourist attraction that hosts public year-round events, including the recent Canada Day festivities of which Port Metro Vancouver was a presenting sponsor.
However, Mayor Gregor Robertson stands strongly opposed to the proposed new management, stating that he doubts the Port authority has the knowledge of how to manage the neighbourhood and it should instead be operated by the municipal government.
One estimate puts the value of Granville Island at approximately $245-million, but only if restrictions with the disposal of federal crown lands do not prevent such a transaction.
The 45-acre, 11 kilometre long Arbutus Corridor is also on Mayor Robertson’s radar with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) intention to reactivate the railway just months before the municipal election.
The 66-foot-wide railway corridor begins at near the Fraser River and runs along Arbutus Street to south False Creek, with connections to the railyard at the False Creek Flats. The last train to run on the railway was fourteen years ago and it served the Molson Brewery at False Creek, but the brewery’s method of transportation has since switched to trucking.
The CPR has been trying to sell the Arbutus Corridor for its full development potential since the early 2000s. It has owned the strip of land for nearly 130 years.
However, the City of Vancouver fought back against any development potential and won the case in the Supreme Court of Canada – it upheld a previous municipal zoning restricting the right-of-way’s use to greenway and car-free transportation uses.
The City of Vancouver wants to retain the Arbutus Corridor, one of its few remaining railway corridors, for future light rail possibilities and other uses such as a pedestrian and cycling path and permanent space for community gardens. The Corridor was previously considered as one of the possible routes the SkyTrain Canada Line (RAV Line) could take.
But in the process, the value of the railway corridor is prevented from reaching its full potential due to restrictive zoning.
“The City is committed to seeking a fair deal with CPR for the Arbutus Corridor lands, so that we can maintain and enhance the Corridor for local residents,” said Robertson in a statement. “We have had discussions for many years and we continue to seek a reasonable agreement. Again, we are hopeful that CPR will accept an offer of fair market value.”
However, the City of Vancouver and CP Rail are about $80-million apart from a deal in the latest negotiations: the municipal government is offering $20-million while the national railway giant demands $100-million for land that goes through some of Vancouver’s most wealthiest neighbourhoods.
In 2010, the City of Richmond purchased a 14.5 acre strip of the old interurban corridor from CP Rail for $5-million.
Meanwhile, CP Rail has requested individuals to dismantle their community garden plots along the Arbutus Corridor. Estimates indicate there are hundreds of plots along the stretch of land, including several major ones.
CP Rail says gardeners must remove their structures, plants and crops no later than Thursday, July 31. But the railway company has assured that it will not remove the gardens immediately after the deadline has passed. Removal is needed so that its engineers can perform maintenance and surveying work to allow for the possibility of reactivating the railway.
“We are a reasonable landowner who – for some time now – has allowed the presence of trespassers on our land without retribution,” said Mike LoVecchio, Director of Government Affairs of CP Rail. “I know this is a harsh description of those who have put such care into beautifying our land with their unauthorized gardens, but what would you call those who park their vehicles or build storage structures or leave abandoned items on our land without permission?”
Image: Google Maps streetview