Thursday, August 20, 2015

Opinion: Watching the trains go by Vancouver Courier August 13, 2015

Some Westside Vancouver residents were recently shocked to see large red and black signs posted around their neighbourhoods announcing the recommencing of CPR railway operations. They were warned not to stop on tracks, obey flag persons and call 3-1-1 for information.

The signs were installed by the City of Vancouver at the request of Transport Canada.
For those not quite sure why active railway traffic will soon be running along the Arbutus Corridor, allow me to offer some background, and a potential solution to end the longstanding impasse between CP and the city.

The 11 km long Arbutus Corridor was given to CP Rail in 1886 and the first rail line was built in 1902 to move cargo and passenger trains. By 1999, train operations were limited to serving the Molson brewery and the company began plans to redevelop the land into a mix of residential and commercial uses.

To prevent this from happening, in July 2000 the city enacted the Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan that designated the land for transportation, parks, and greenways only.

CP subsequently took the city to court arguing that the city had effectively taken its property without compensation. However, the city won since it generally has the right to zone land in the public interest.

Five years later, CP initiated a planning exercise that included participation from four neighbourhoods- Kitsilano, Arbutus Ridge/Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale and Marpole-through which the rail line runs. Stanley King, a local planner who has a magical ability to illustrate what people are saying was brought in, along with an advisory panel that included Nola-Kate Seymoar, president of the International Centre for Sustainable Cities. Mark Holland, a respected sustainability planner, UBC’s Patrick Condon, and former NDP premier Mike Harcourt I attended some of the deliberations as a past director of the International Centre for Sustainable Cities.

Eventually a report was prepared that argued against using the lands solely for a greenway with bike paths and walkways because, despite meeting certain sustainability principles, this was not financially sustainable. Moreover, it did not include green buildings and infrastructure, or diverse housing choices, all of which are key tenets of sustainable planning. 

The preferred plan envisioned maintaining a continuous transit corridor, with mixed-use development at key nodes including Kerrisdale Village, where the corridor is flanked by city streets on two sides, and around 33rd, 16th and other major arterials.

In response to those who question whether it is possible to retain a transit corridor through development, you might be interested to know there are two transit corridors reserved through Coal Harbour’s Bayshore development; one above ground and one below ground.

By combining CP’s land with the city’s land, the planners concluded it was possible to create significant value for CP, which in turn would allow the city to acquire the balance of the corridor for next to nothing. 

However, shortly thereafter, the city successfully fought against any development along the corridor after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the previous municipal bylaw that restricted the right-of-way’s use to a greenway and car-free transportation corridor.
Fast forward to summer 2014. 

After the city and CP failed to agree on a fair market price for the property, CP threatened to start running trains along the line and insisted that community gardens and other public use cease immediately.  This time the city took the railway to court, but lost.
In a subsequent letter to neighbourhood residents, the president of CP wrote:
“For many years now, CP has been involved in conversations to convert the Arbutus Corridor for a number of combined public uses, such as a greenway, public transportation, community gardens and Eco Density development. Despite our efforts, the company and other parties have been unable to achieve a plan for the disposition of this valuable asset.”
If you would like to speak to those “other parties” just dial 3-1-1. 

Tell the city it’s time to agree on a plan preserving a transit corridor, along with a mix of public amenities and sustainable development. This will make much more sense than watching trains going forward and backward while lawyers argue in court.
Twitter @michaelgeller


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