Mayor Gregor Robertson has offered in the past week to get Vancouver to buy highly prized chunks of property – the hugely popular Granville Island and the Canadian Pacific Railway line that has become a favoured strip for walking, biking and community gardens on the west side.
But no one can say the price of either property.
And, in the case of Granville Island, a spokeswoman for the federal government says it’s not even clear whether Ottawa can sell the 15-hectare island, which was transformed from industrial uses to a popular farmers’ and artists’ market in the 1970s.
“There is legislation that covers the selling of Crown assets,” said Teresa Amoroso, the communications officer for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., the government department that currently manages Granville Island.
She said the corporation’s legal department, in response to a question from The Globe and Mail, is checking to see what restrictions govern the use or resale of that land.
Neither she nor anyone at the city knew the value of Granville Island, although one real estate analyst said a rough guess, based on a couple of pieces of property inside it that have been valued, might be about $245-million.
A spokesman from the mayor’s office, Braeden Caley, also said he didn’t have any information on the value of the 11-kilometre CP Rail line that the city is offering to buy, even though the city has done an internal appraisal. The City of Richmond recently purchased a large stretch of CP Rail line for $5-million.
Mr. Robertson has a motion going to council Tuesday asking city staff to explore buying or leasing Granville Island as a way of retaining local control, in the face of recent news that it may be passed from CMHC to Port Metro Vancouver.
On Sunday, his office issued another release with the offer to purchase the rail corridor, which the city and CP have been scrapping over since 2000.
That year, the city abruptly rezoned it as a transportation corridor after CP made some preliminary moves to develop housing along it.
CP fought the city to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the legality of that rezoning and lost in 2006.
Recently, it has told residents along the line to remove anything interfering with its use so that CP can use it as a rail corridor again, which the mayor has objected to.
“The City had an independent appraisal done of the Arbutus Corridor lands, and is prepared to pay fair market value for the land,” Sunday’s release quoted Mr. Robertson as saying. “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.”
In the case of both pieces of land, there’s been a lot of alarm from local residents and some businesses about potential changes to them.
Residents who use the CPR tracks for community gardens are aghast that CP is ordering them to stop using what has become a lush greenway through the city’s west side.
In the case of Granville Island, City Councillor Geoff Meggs said people are worried about having a place that is all about local businesses and culture run by an agency like Port Metro Vancouver, which is focused primarily on managing the harbour and shipping.
But an architect who helped transform Granville Island in the 1970s said there are advantages to having the federal government, not the city, run it.
Joost Bakker said Granville Island was able to be developed with the lighting, quirky roadways, and creative mix of industrial, artistic and commercial space that is has because it didn’t have to comply with city building and zoning bylaws.
George Affleck, a councillor with the minority Non-Partisan Association on council, said he had real concerns with the city’s efforts to take over the island.
“I don’t see how Vancouver could ever afford to take it over,” he said. The federal government currently provides subsidies to keep artists’ rents low, something that would be a big burden if only Vancouver taxpayers were covering it.
Mr. Affleck said having the city control the rail corridor is probably a good idea, but he suspects “the cost would be astronomical.”