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CP to resume clearing gardens from Arbutus corridor

The corridor has been a point of contention between the city and the transportation company, and Vancouver’s management of the issue was a point of debate in the municipal election in the fall.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. will resume work on Tuesday clearing community gardens, brush and anything else blocking the Arbutus corridor in central Vancouver, beginning a month-long process to prepare for the return of trains to the track after more than a decade.

The move, announced in a notice to area residents, comes less than a month after a B.C. Supreme Court justice rejected a legal application by the City of Vancouver to stop such work and said CP could resume its clean-up of the nine-kilometre track last used by freight trains 13 years ago.

"The Arbutus corridor is a valuable asset for CP and we remain committed to our shareholders in optimizing its use," said the letter posted to CP's website from Mike LoVecchio, a government-affairs director for the company.

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CP has said it is taking a few weeks to decide exactly how to use the corridor, working through options that include training runs of trains, storing rail cars and welding work.

CP stopped the cleanup in October, 2014, after the city applied for a court injunction.

According to the letter, brush cutting and "removal of encroachments" will resume on Tuesday at W. 70th Avenue and continue northward.

In the letter, CP says "it is neither safe nor legal" for anyone to use the land as a commuter route, for storing personal goods or for gardening.

"This work will take approximately four weeks. Following this, we will move forward with any required infrastructure upgrades. Prior to any trains using our tracks along the Arbutus corridor, CP will ensure that there is the appropriate regulatory approval."

A CP spokesperson said the company had no further comment on the matter.

CP has said the Arbutus corridor could be worth about $400-million as a real-estate development. Talks with the city to sell the land collapsed. The company said it would sell for $100-million, but civic officials countered that $20-million was a more reasonable price.

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On Monday, the office of Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a terse statement in response to a Globe and Mail request for comment on the latest development.

"The City is continuing to review its options in light of the court's decision. We are preparing an application to the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding our concerns about any reactivation of trains by CP along the Arbutus Corridor."

George Affleck, a councillor for the minority Non-Partisan Association party on council, said it was "unfortunate" the further destruction of community gardens looms. "There should be a way to make this work for everyone," he said.

Residents of neighbouring condos who would otherwise have no space to grow food had used the corridor for community gardens.

"From a personal level, it's great just to have actual space to grow your own food and be connected to the Earth and share with my children what that means," said Adam Vasilevich, who has had a plot in the Pine Street Community Gardens on the corridor for seven years.

The condo resident said the garden is a great community amenity.

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"You get to meet your own neighbours, otherwise there are very few places to actually meet other apartment dwellers," he said. "It's a space to come together, work together and build something together."

He said most people in the garden, which spans about two blocks, are condo dwellers. About 100 people are on the waiting list for spaces in the garden, one of several in the corridor.

Mr. Vasilevich said those with plots in the garden are upset their work will be swept away.

He said gardeners think the city should do more to cut a deal with CP. "They should try to look at some creative ways in settling their dispute with the railway," he said, raising the possibility of tax breaks to appease CP.

"We have asked the city and CP to work out their differences. To us, it seems just a case of CP trying to get the higher value for their land. We don't believe that they're actually interested in doing railway operations."

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