Newly announced talks with the City of Vancouver have prompted Canadian Pacific Rail to suspend work along an 11-kilometre-long corridor of unused track that included the controversial clearance of scores of community gardens.
Both CP and the city said Wednesday that work along the Arbutus corridor will be suspended for two to three weeks while talks proceed. They are the first such negotiations since CP began work to reclaim the track for use earlier this month.
"CP willingly participates in these meetings and is hopeful a resolution may be reached," said a CP statement issued by spokesperson Breanne Feigel. "If a reasonable solution has not been found in this time frame, CP will resume work in preparation for rail operations."
A statement from the city said senior officials from the city and CP Rail would meet to talk about the corridor's future.
Earlier this month, the transportation company moved to reclaim the area for possible future rail use in an action Mayor Gregor Robertson deemed a "bullying tactic" to get more money from the city for the land.
Kate Wilczak, who has been nurturing crops in the Arbutus Victory Gardens for four years, said the announcement that CP's work to clear the rail corridor has stopped — at least for now — has given herself and her fellow green thumbs fresh hope.
"It's a bit hard when you're facing a corporation," said Wilczak, whose garden has yet to be disturbed by CP.
"It's a positive step. We're really hopeful that CP is able to negotiate something with the city. We know the city is doing everything that they can to try to get this done."
Wilczak said she and her fellow gardeners plan to meet on Thursday to discuss any action they might take.
Residents opposed to the change have started a Facebook page and an online petition that's garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.
Many are concerned for their crops and don't understand why CP took the action before the harvest, said Wilczak, whose garden includes fava beans, potatoes, raspberries, herbs and an apple tree.
"One of the gardeners likened moving the fruits right now to moving a pregnant lady — asking her to bungee jump," she said. "They're ripening, they've got buds, they've got immature berries and a few mature berries. Now is such a dreadful time to be moving plants."
In its statement, the company also warned the public to be careful around the land, which hasn't been used since 2001.
"We would like to remind everyone that it is not safe to be on or near the railroad tracks at any time," the statement said.
"Designated public crossings must be used to cross over railroad tracks and caution should be exercised at all times when near the railway."
In May, CP indicated that it would begin clearing the corridor for rail traffic for the first time since trains moved in 2001.
Mr. Robertson has touted a city "fair-market offer" for the land, reportedly about $20-million, although CP is reportedly looking for $100-million for the land.
On Wednesday, both CP and the mayor's office declined further comment beyond the statements, leaving open questions about what prompted both sides to resume talks.
Kirk Lapointe, Mr. Robertson's key challenger for the mayor's job in municipal elections this November, said he hoped the Vision Vancouver mayor would be at the negotiating table and consult the community on the future of development along the Arbutus corridor.
He conceded timelines are tight for consultation, but some effort might yield information that would guide the negotiations.
"For a parcel of land this important, he should be [at the negotiating table] as a representative of the people," said Mr. LaPointe, mayoral candidate for the Non-Partisan Association.
"I don't get any sense that he has any personal involvement in this," Mr. LaPointe said in an interview.
The mayor's office did not respond to a query on whether Mr. Robertson is at the table for the negotiations.
CP's work meant uprooting plants and bulldozing tool sheds to clear 350 plots along the Arbutus corridor between False Creek and the Fraser River.
Scores of local gardeners and their supporters have been reeling from CP's action, which wiped out plots used to grow food and other plants – many for area residents who live in condos and apartments, and do not have their own lawns.
With a report from The Canadian Press