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British Columbia Robertson slams CP Rail after talks over Arbutus corridor break down

Residents Mila Rakhmetouline , left, and Sarah Myambo salvage wood from their community garden after workers destroyed and prepared to remove it from a stretch of abandoned CP Rail line in Vancouver on August 14, 2014

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Mayor Gregor Robertson went on the attack against Canadian Pacific Railway Friday, after talks broke down between CP and the city over the price the railway wants for 11 kilometres of track on the west side of Vancouver.

The fight over the value of the unused track along Arbutus has had the city in a minor uproar for the last several months, after CP warned people who maintain community gardens along the track that it would be clearing the line by July 31 so it could be serviceable again.

"CP's attempts to clear the corridor are nothing more than a negotiating tactic," the mayor was quoted as saying in a city news release. "The City will not react to this by spending tens of millions of dollars based on flawed appraisals that do not reflect the permitted land use on the corridor. That would be irresponsible for taxpayers and we will not allow that."

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After some gardens had been bulldozed, CP agreed to suspend further action in late August pending the outcome of talks with the city.

But an all-day meeting Friday ended with CP officials walking away. CP has been asking for $100-million for the land, saying that that's what it would be worth if that valuable west-side land were developed.

But the city has been offering more in the region of $20-million, saying that's all it's worth because it is zoned as a transportation corridor, not as residential land.

The city rezoned the land in 1999 for transportation, after it became clear CP would not be using it for trains in the future and that it was making moves to redevelop it. CP appealed that all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, saying it was expropriation, and lost in 2006.

The city had been offering a number of options to CP, including promising to share profits with the agency if there were any future residential development. The two sides also looked at land swaps, but since they couldn't agree on the value, that went nowhere.

The dispute, happening just a few months ahead of the election, has prompted the city's various political parties to weigh in.

COPE council candidate Tim Louis has said the city should just expropriate the land, though legal experts question whether that's possible. Green council candidate Cleta Brown said she favoured having the city allow CP to develop near commercial areas in exchange for CP giving the city the remainder of the corridor.

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NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe said at first that the Vision council shouldn't be throwing money at CP for the land, then that Vision hadn't negotiated with them properly or fairly for the land.

Mr. Robertson didn't comment on whether that second statement might have prompted CP to wait for election results to try for a more favourable negotiation with a different council.

CP did not respond to a call asking for comment.

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