National News

CP Rail puts garden demolition on hold for talks

By Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - Residents who have tended gardens for years along an abandoned stretch of rail line in south Vancouver will be waiting and watching over the next few weeks to learn whether their endangered landscapes will be spared.

Canadian Pacific Railway had been demolishing garden plots along a community greenery in one neighbourhood, but the company put that work on hold Wednesday to meet with senior city officials.

CP Rail said it has agreed to suspend track maintenance on its land for the next two to three weeks in an area known as the Arbutus corridor.

"CP willingly participates in these meetings and is hopeful a resolution may be reached," spokeswoman Breanne Feigel wrote in an emailed statement.

"If a reasonable solution has not been found in this time frame, CP will resume work in preparation for rail operations."

Residents have used sections of the former 11-kilometre track as a greenway since CP stopped running trains about 14 years ago, but the company announced plans earlier this summer to remove the gardens and renew rail operations.

The city and CP have held multiple discussions over the years about developing the private land for combined uses such as a greenway, public transportation, community gardens and eco-density development. Faced with a stalemate over a "valuable asset," the company said it had to look at best uses for the corridor.

CP gave residents notice in June to remove personal items, sheds and gardens by July 31.

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.

When the bulldozing machines rolled in on Aug. 14, Mayor Gregor Robertson accused the company of "bullying." He said the city offered to buy the land for fair market value, but the company rejected it.

"CP assumes the fair-market value is based upon significant commercial opportunity with development, leading to a value that is significantly higher (five-fold) than an appraisal based on the allowable use of the land," said Robertson in a letter dated July 28 to CEO Hunter Harrison.

City officials were not commenting Wednesday, describing the talks as confidential.

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."

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