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March 7, 2016 at 10:47 PM

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City purchases Arbutus Corridor – for greenway, possible streetcar route

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Concept of the proposed Arbutus Greenway (City of Vancouver)

After several months of negotiations, the City of Vancouver and CP Rail have reached an agreement on the future of the Arbutus Corridor.

The City will purchase the 9km rail line for $55 million. It’s a deal that will allow the City and its residents to acquire a tract of land running almost the full length of the municipality – a total of 42 acres of open space between Milton Street (on the Fraser River) and West 1st Avenue.

All in all, this is an exciting turn of events, especially given the sometimes challenging discussions that have taken place between the two parties over the few years.

CP had stopped using the tracks in 2001, but had recently cleared them again – along with the adjacent community gardens that had been created in the interim – after indicating an interest in reintroducing trains along the route. Discussions around the possible sale of the land appeared to stall early – CP at one point said the land was worth almost eight times the sale price. Thankfully though, both parties persevered to in the interest in resolving the issue.

One of the many gardens that lay along the Corridor. Photo Adam O’Neill

Building on the Corridor’s recent legacy as a greenspace, the City has already indicated that the site will contain a “greenway” – for pedestrians, cyclists and community gardens.

Interesting, the City has also indicated that a portion of the lands may be considered for future use as a streetcar or light rail route. (A nod to local history: the old Vancouver-Richmond Interurban Line traversed parts of the same route in the first half of the 20th century).

Just for fun: the Lulu Island Interurban Station – at 3rd and Granville, ca 1910

Also in the agreement is an arrangement that allows ‘excess lands’ – those not used for the greenway or transportation purposes – to be redeveloped. It will be important to monitor how this component of the arrangement evolves, especially given the revenue scenarios that were negotiated. Depending on the extend of development, the overall cost of the purchase could be offset, even eliminated.

It is difficult to know what, if anything, this provision might mean at this stage – but it would be reasonable to assume that the City is considering some dimension of cost-recovery as part of the transaction. That’s a fair and reasonable thing to do, but of course it will be the details that count. Locating density near to key community assets is a respectable planning move, but it may also come with its share of controversy among those community members along the corridor opposed to the introduction of new residential (or other) uses.

In the meantime, we’ll take this opportunity to endorse the acquisition of the corridor. The purchase, while coming with a hefty price-tag, is a win for the city, its residents and visitors alike. A well-designed greenway will be a true asset to the city, and a nearly unprecedented addition to Vancouver’s public realm.

The City is already floating ideas about the consultation and planning process.

Additional details can be found in the lengthy media release below.


City of Vancouver
News Release
March 7, 2016

City and CP agree to landmark agreement for the creation of the Arbutus Greenway

The City of Vancouver (City) and Canadian Pacific Railway Limited (CP) have reached a historic agreement that will secure the legacy of the Arbutus Greenway for public use for years to come. The City has agreed to purchase the railway route from CP, which represents 42 acres of open space running approximately 9 km from Milton Street to 1st Avenue for $55 million.

“The City’s historic purchase of the Arbutus railway is great news for Vancouver,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “Thanks to this landmark agreement, the City will be able to transform the area into an outstanding greenway and connect neighbourhoods from False Creek to Marpole. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, not unlike New York’s High Line and other international examples. City Council is looking forward to the next steps in this process and to working with the community to enhance the greenway for all users.”

“For many years now, CP has been involved in conversations with the City about the future of the Arbutus corridor,” said Keith Creel, CP’s President and Chief Operating Officer. “We are pleased that today’s landmark agreement allows the City to create a transportation corridor and greenway while providing a fair return to CP and our shareholders.”

This agreement signals the end of a long negotiation process between the City and CP that lasted over four years, and ensures that Vancouver residents can continue to use the transportation corridor and greenway as a walking and cycling route. In 2013, the City included the Arbutus Corridor as a green transportation corridor in the City’s Regional Context Statement, approved by Council and the Metro Vancouver Board, and is now integrated into the provincially-approved Regional Growth Strategy. The City and CP are pleased to have arrived at this landmark agreement that provides new opportunities for the creation of a greenway.

City staff will now begin to look to improve or upgrade certain parts of the Corridor to enhance public space, and will launch a dedicated Arbutus Greenway Project Office to oversee the design process and solicit public input on the final design of the transportation corridor and greenway.


Summary of transaction:

  • Purchase price: $55 million
  • Title to corridor properties (~42 acres spanning ~9km) from Milton Street to 1st Avenue transfers to City on closing and payment of $55 million
  • Lands not needed for transportation corridor, if any, (“Excess Lands”) may be repurposed for other uses, or sold. If these lands are sold, City to share a portion of revenues with CPR

Revenue sharing options:

1. Sharing of net proceeds from sale of Excess Lands
________________Canadian Pacific Railway City of Vancouver
First $50 million 75% 25%
Second $50 million 50% 50%
Third $50 million 25% 75%
Thereafter 0% 100%


2. CP may exercise option for lands between West 1st and 5th Avenues. If they do so then there is no sharing on any other portion of the Corridor that might be sold. If CP receives more than $75 million on the option sites, then the City will receive 50% of such excess proceeds.

Source of funding for City of Vancouver:

  1. Property Endowment Fund: $20 million
  2. Capital Facilities Reserve: $35 million

Removal of rails/ties:

  • CP to remove rails and ties, beginning within a year, to enable the City to construct a transportation greenway and reserve space for future light rail/streetcar

Environmental Liability:

  • City has now completed its due diligence (reviewed all of the CP provided environmental reports and completed environmental testing – both onsite and offsite)
    • No significant contamination was identified on or adjacent to the Arbutus Corridor
    • No further investigation work is recommended at this time
    • For transportation corridor improvements, no further environmental work is anticipated but to be further confirmed by new project office

Next steps:

Design for walking/cycling/light rail:

  • City to expedite design areas for walking and cycling use, and design area for future light rail/streetcar use
  • City can begin construction of transportation greenway as soon as rail is removed and it is anticipated that some portions will be completed by the end of 2017 and the remainder by end of 2018
  • Once above designs are prepared, City can commence planning and public process to consider if there are any excess lands (with goal to complete public and regulatory process within four years after closing) and if so, how these are to be developed

Establish Arbutus Greenway Project Office:

  • City will establish a dedicated office to expedite design of the transportation corridor for greenway and space for light rail
  • Estimated funding to establish project office and complete transportation corridor design and public engagement work, and planning and disposition of Excess Land, if applicable: is up to $3 million

History of the Arbutus Corridor:

  • The Arbutus Corridor includes land granted to CP by the Provincial Crown and land purchased by CP from third parties


  • In 1995, City Council approved the 1995 Greenways Plan which included the Arbutus Corridor as a future greenway to be called the Arbutus Way. Greenways were defined as “green paths” for pedestrians and cyclists that follow rivers, streets, beaches, railways, ridges and ravines. Their purpose is to expand the opportunities for urban recreation and to enhance the experience of nature and city life
  • In July 2000, the City enacted the Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan By-Law (ODP) that designated the corridor as a public thoroughfare for transportation and “greenways” like heritage walks, nature trails and cyclist paths
  • In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the City’s right to determine how land within Vancouver can be used. Since then, the Arbutus Corridor has been used without legal authority by the public as a walking and cycling route and home of multiple community gardens
  • In October 2012, the Transportation 2040 Plan was adopted by Council and it maintained the objective to develop the Corridor as an area of focus to becoming an active transportation greenway, as well as future light rail for transit
  • In 2013, the City included the Arbutus Corridor as a green transportation corridor in the City’s Regional Context Statement, approved by Council and the Metro Vancouver Board, and is now integrated into the provincially-approved Regional Growth Strategy
  • From 2011-2014, City and CP negotiated over the sale of the Corridor with negotiations ending unsuccessfully in September 2014
  • From November 2015 – January 2016, negotiations resume with CP with key terms for purchase set out in a non-binding MOU dated January 19, 2016

Community Gardens and trees:

  • As part of the City’s Community Garden Program, there are approximately 350 permitted garden plots on City-owned land near the existing rail line. In the short term, there will be no changes impacting community gardens, however it is important that gardeners maintain their existing footprint and do not encroach onto neighbouring land including the rail corridor
  • Permitted gardens are:
    • Arbutus Victory Gardens – Between 49th & 57th and 65th & 68th– 68 Plots
    • Kerrisdale Community Garden – 7599 Angus Dr – 30 plots
    • The World in a Garden – south of 57th & East Boulevard – 8 plots (communal gardening)
    • JFSA Community Garden – 57th & East Boulevard – ~46 plot (communal gardening)
    • Maple Community Garden – 1900 block of West 6th Ave – 44 plots
    • Cypress Community Garden – 1800 block of West 6th Ave – 69 plots
    • Pine Street Community Garden – 1600 block & 1700 block of West 6th Ave – 92 plots
  • Over the next year, there will be some light construction along the line (i.e. the rail ties will be removed), so it is important to continue to respect the land boundaries confirmed with CP in 2014
  • The Park Board took steps in March 2015 to save trees before the planned CP Rail reclamation of the old rail bed along the Arbutus Corridor began. Park Board crews relocated trees in good condition as determined by the City Arborist, most fruit trees, to existing parks and new homes today. The tree transplanting supports the Park Board’s Urban Forest Strategy, a key aim of which is to protect a healthy, mature tree canopy in Vancouver
  • Workers first hand dug smaller trees with a shovel for donation toTreeKeepers, a non-profit organization that will find new homes for them. Larger trees were transplanted with a mechanical tree spade. The Park Board transplanted the majority of the larger trees to McCleery Golf Course greenway


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