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Public input sought to guide vision for Vancouver’s Arbutus corridor

Residents walk along Vancouver’s Arbutus corridor. The city acquired the nine-kilometre corridor last year.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver has launched public consultations on the future of the Arbutus corridor, which the city hopes will expand tourism beyond the city's seawall and eventually transform areas along the route with new housing and commercial development.

When the city acquired the nine-kilometre corridor last year after a protracted standoff with Canadian Pacific Railway, Mayor Gregor Robertson announced plans for a greenway in the mould of New York's High Line – a park built on an elevated rail line that has become a major tourist attraction.

Now, the city is asking the public to guide the vision for the corridor through an online survey and open houses.

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The city also plans to set up pop-up hot-chocolate stands along the route to encourage passersby to have their say.

"This pathway connects some key communities in Vancouver in a way like never before," Mr. Robertson said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"It's a game-changing opportunity for these neighbourhoods, for this business area and for all Vancouverites and visitors."

As for what the corridor will eventually look like, Mr. Robertson said "the sky's the limit" and he encouraged residents to "dream big" when it comes to their suggestions.

He said he's keeping an open mind.

The plan for the former rail corridor, which cuts through some of Vancouver's most expensive real estate on the city's west side, also opens sections along the route for residential and commercial development.

Mr. Robertson said the city is open to allowing development along areas of the greenway that are broad enough, but beyond that, he offered no details about what that might look like.

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"There's possibility for development but it all needs to fit within the neighbourhood plans and with the overall planning of the city," he said.

The city also plans to eventually run streetcars along the corridor, but Jerry Dobrovolny, Vancouver's chief engineer, said those details aren't worked out, either.

"Plans for a streetcar network in this city are real; these projects just take time," Mr. Dobrovolny said. "It's probably another 10 to 20 years down the road."

The city purchased the walkway after a 15-year fight that included several lawsuits and contentious negotiations. During that process, CP announced plans to restart rail traffic along the corridor and began ripping up long-established community gardens to prepare the tracks.

The dispute ended last year when CP agreed to sell the land to the city for $55-million, an amount between the $20-million the city initially offered and the $100-million CP wanted.

Construction of a temporary path is under way, although that work was halted last week because of weather. The work is expected to resume next week, with about 40 per cent of the walkway still left to complete. Construction of the permanent pathway is not expected to start until at least 2019, after public consultations are finished.

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"This pathway isn't just for the people who consider themselves the crème de la crème of this area. This is for all Vancouverites," said Tanya Paz, chair of the City of Vancouver's active transportation policy council.

"I envision it as a quiet pathway most of the time and then taking on a festive atmosphere for special events."

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