The City of Vancouver and Canadian Pacific Police Service have finally reached a deal on the Arbutus corridor, a nine-kilometre stretch of land that runs north to south through Vancouver’s west side.
Today (March 7), the city announced it will purchase the land from CP Rail for a price of $55 million.
It plans to remove the railway tracks that have remained unused since the early 1990s and create a transportation corridor designed for public transit, bicycles, and pedestrians.
Mayor Gregor Robertson unveiled the deal alongside CP Rail’s president and chief operating officer, Keith Creel, at a news conference at 6th Avenue and Fir Street.
“I am very pleased to announce today that at long last, the city and Canadian Pacific, CP, have reached a fair agreement that will secure the Arbutus greenway for public use going forward, for the generations to come,” Robertson said. “It is now public land. And that means that 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 into the future.”
He added that CP Rail will begin removing the railroad tracks, with that work expected to be completed within two years.
In most places, the strip of land in question is about 20 metres across.
Robertson repeatedly said that exactly how the space will be redeveloped remains to be determined via a public-consultation process. But he also emphasized the idea is to use it as a transportation corridor.
“At this point, what is envisioned is passenger rail side by side with a greenway for walk, run, and bike,” Robertson said.
He estimated the land’s redevelopment will cost the city between $25 million and $30 million on top of the $55-million purchase price.
In the meantime, the mayor asked that people not plant community gardens on the land in locations where they had been before CP Rail removed them through 2015.
“What we are asking people to do is to not encroach while the public-planning process happens,” Robertson said. “There are about 350 garden plots that are legitimate, that are approved by the city over many decades. Those, obviously, remain. It is up to the community engagement to decide whether some more gardening space could be allocated somewhere along the corridor.
“Obviously, it needs to work with the transportation and the walking and biking path. So most of the space will be taken up by transportation, we expect,” he continued. “We’re asking everyone to hold the line for now, and we’ll make the improvements and have the community process to decide the future.”
A dispute over the 17 hectares of land had grown grew increasingly bitter in recent years. Talks broke down in September 2014.
“Very, very disappointed to see CP being absolutely inflexible and refusing to make a fair deal on this important corridor for Vancouver,” Robertson said at the time. "We will not be bullied into overpaying for the Arbutus corridor. This is an important piece of land for the city, but at the same time, I will be fighting to protect Vancouver's and our taxpayers' interests here in ensuring that we don't overpay for the Arbutus corridor and ensure that there is an appropriate negotiation.”
Shortly after, in February 2015, CP Rail began ripping out community gardens that were planted along the unused rail line many years earlier. That work continued for the next several months, with CP eventually removing all of the gardens.
The railway operator subsequently threatened to resume running trains down the nine kilometres of track, even though it was not connected to other transportation infrastructure in the region.
Robertson responded by restating that the city “will not be bullied”.
At the news conference today, he said that both sides had had a “change of heart” and finally arrived at a price for the land that all parties deemed fair.