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Greenway-railway showdown looms for the Arbutus corridor

A man walks past a community garden along the CP tracks near West 6th Avenue and Cypress Street on Thursday.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

For more than a decade, gardens, sheds and benches have sprung up along a disused rail line in Vancouver, becoming fixtures along a track that runs from False Creek to the Fraser River through some of the priciest neighbourhoods in the country.

Now, however, those "encumbrances" have been given an expiry date, with Canadian Pacific – which owns what has become known as the Arbutus corridor – saying structures on CP-owned property must be removed by July 31 or risk being removed as part of "track maintenance."

While the CP deadline likely spells the end for some well-tended flower beds, it signals the continuation of something else: a long-running standoff between the rail company and the City of Vancouver over the future of a 11-kilometre strip of land bordered by leafy streets and multimillion-dollar homes. The city wants to retain the land as a greenway and future transportation corridor. CP, which obtained the tract through a grant from the province in 1886, wants to maximize value from property that has been in limbo since at least 2000, when the city passed a bylaw designating the corridor a public thoroughfare.

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The track was last used for train service in 2001.

CP challenged the bylaw in court. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 2006 ruled in favour of the city, saying it controls land use along the route and did not have to pay compensation to CP for the bylaw's effect, which CP argued amounted to freezing the corridor without legally acquiring it.

The city and CP have since held discussions about the future of the corridor.

This spring, CP said it was reviewing its options for the track, including running CP trains. The removal of encroachments is part of that review.

"The Arbutus corridor is a valuable asset for CP; therefore, as with all our assets, we must optimize its use on behalf of our shareholders," CP said in a recent letter to area residents. "CP has discussed the future of the Arbutus line with the City of Vancouver for several years. Unfortunately, discussions have now ended without compromise. CP remains open to further discussions but, failing that, we must move forward with our operational options."

The letter says all personal items, such as sheds, structures and gardens, within CP land are to be removed by the end of the month. Survey stakes have been placed along the route and CP has also posted a map of corridor boundaries on its website.

CP has not yet decided whether trains will be reintroduced on the route, CP spokesman Ed Greenberg said on Thursday.

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"This is the next stage of reviewing operational options for this corridor," Mr. Greenberg said, adding that the encroachments need to be cleared so that engineers can determine what needs to be done to bring tracks up to federal regulatory standards.

"We haven't made any firm decisions yet – we want to make sure we are doing all the steps that are necessary," he said.

Some options that have been discussed at community meetings have included using the tracks to train engineers or for rail-car storage.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in June wrote to CP urging the company to respect the wishes of local neighbourhoods to maintain the corridor as a local greenway. The city's position – that the corridor be maintained as a greenway until a business case is viable for light-rail transit along the route – is unchanged, a spokesman said yesterday.

In his letter, Mr. Robertson said the city and CP had engaged in "productive conversations" over the past several years.

David Cuan, president of the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners' Association, a residents' group, said revived train traffic is not a popular notion.

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"We certainly don't want the corridor to be used by trains running every few hours through the neighbourhood," Mr. Cuan said. "But we also realize [the property] is owned by CP … we also appreciate the city's wish to have that retained as a transportation corridor for future generations."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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