Vancouver's mayor says he wants to ensure the unused rail line slicing through some of the city's priciest neighbourhoods remains a leafy greenway and the city is prepared to pay "fair market value" to Canadian Pacific Railway to ensure that happens.
But exactly what is "fair market value" is a matter for discussion.
The city is sending letters this week to residents along the Arbutus Corridor, assuring them Mayor Gregor Robertson wants the community gardens and walking paths to remain, despite the railway's suggestion that the line be cleared to ensure trains can roll through once again.
"As mayor, I strongly believe that the Arbutus Corridor should remain as it is today – an enjoyable route for people to walk, run and bike along, as well as a home to the many community gardens that contribute to our neighbourhood," the letter from Mr. Robertson states.
"We have had discussions for many years and we continue to seek a reasonable agreement. Again, we are hopeful that CPR will accept an offer of fair market value."
A spokesman for the mayor's office, Braeden Caley, has said he didn't have any information on the value of the 11-kilometre CP rail line, though the city as done an internal appraisal.
In 2010, the City of Richmond purchased a large stretch of CP Rail line for $5-million to connect the city's extensive trail system.
But Gordon Price, a former city councillor who is now director at Simon Fraser University's City Program, said the Arbutus Corridor would be far more expensive.
Still, he said the value is extremely difficult to nail down, because it depends on the kinds of density and development decisions the next council – whichever party forms it – will want to make.
But he said intense development along there is unlikely.
"You have to maintain corridors so you have the option to use them as the city develops – looking ahead 100 years," he said. "You have to keep them open in case there are transportation options for them."
In 1996, the City of Vancouver paid $9-million for CP land on the south side of False Creek to build an inner-city rail line system.
Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for CP, said it had sent another letter to the city last week saying it is prepared to "enter into meaningful conversations."
"If the City of Vancouver wishes to make an offer at fair market value, CP would be pleased to receive it. We are ready to discuss."
It has been 14 years since the railway has run cargo trains past the multimillion-dollar homes along the corridor in Kerrisdale and Kitsilano, from False Creek to the Fraser River. Over the years, it has become an unofficial ribbon-like park with many community gardens – 350 of them that are permitted – sheds and benches dotting the dirt paths worn well into the ground next to the rails by joggers, cyclists and dog-walkers.
CP announced earlier this month the rail line would have to be cleared by July 31 as part of "track maintenance."
CP obtained the tract through a grant from the province in 1886 and 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.
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.
In an interview Monday, Mr. Greenberg said the railway's move has nothing to do with bringing the matter to a head in an election year. He said discussions have been continuing for more than a decade.
"As a result, we really stood down during that period on the basis that there was hope of having sincere productive discussions. It's been more than a decade and we've been unable to reach a plan for the disposition of this valuable asset."
Mr. Greenberg wouldn't say whether there had been a recent breakdown in talks, prompting the railway's action now. He noted the railway has had its own assessments of the value of the land. He wouldn't say what those were.
The city says in its letter to residents that staff are looking at the option of relocating mature fruit trees that may be encroaching on CP property.