Springboard for action ASAP

Renegotiations about the future of the Garden City Lands in Richmond, B.C., are close to completion. This is a crucial period. We have urged supporters to act by contacting Canada Lands Company and other parties. The following 943 words are the best we can do to provide thorough current background. Please take five minutes to think about it and then write ASAP. At this stage, contacting Canada Lands by email is generally best.

Ancient history (March 2005 to June 2009)

As the Garden City Lands agreements played out, the role of Canada Lands Company as project manager for the ALR-exclusion application tarnished the image of that federal land disposal company. There was considerable evidence of manipulation of the citizens and council. An impression also grew that the company planned to ignore the provisions in the MOU, the basic agreement, about (a) renegotiation of understandings that could not be met, (b) dispute resolution, and (c) the restoration of each of the four original parties to the position it was in prior to entering the MOU.

In the company’s defence, there is also reason to think that senior City of Richmond representatives were “in cahoots” with it. Nevertheless, the company’s mandate involves providing benefit to the local community, not to city politicians and civil servants. Especially after seeing how the company’s performance improved dramatically in the parallel issue of Upton Farm in Prince Edward Island, we still have some faith in Canada Lands Company.

Trigger for the current renegotiations

The Garden City Lands renegotiations taking place now were needed because an MOU understanding that half the property (called the Development Lands) would be rezoned for high-density construction cannot be met, since the land is in the ALR. It has been there since the ALR was created, yet the MOU presumptuously took for granted that Canada Lands could get it excluded. Both exclusion attempts failed because the applications showed no grounds for exclusion.

It is important to note that the understanding that limits the uses of the other half of the property (the Public Lands, often called the City lands), should still be in place. Furthermore, the City has a covenant on the property title that protects its ability to acquire the Public Lands for $4.77 million (plus certain expenses). It is therefore reasonable to assume that the Public Lands half of the property will remain green for community benefit unless the City of Richmond is inept.

What needs to be renegotiated

The issue, then, is the renegotiation of the uses for the Development Lands.

As you know, Canada Lands holds the title to the whole property. However, according to the MOU, the Musqueam Indian Band is entitled to an unregistered 50% beneficial interest in the property and has the option of being compensated in land, which would be one quarter of the entire property (50% of the Develoopment Lands).

The entire property is already in the ALR, with no credible prospect of ever being removed, but we are asking Canada Lands to safeguard the land forever by ensuring that any sale of the Development Lands, as well as the Public Lands, is on the express condition that the property will remain green for community benefit. Although our concern is with the goal, not mechanisms for safeguarding it, there is at least one obvious possible mechanism, a covenant registered by Canada Lands against the title(s) of the eventual purchaser(s) that guarantees the entire property will be used only for ALR-permitted purposes for community benefit in perpetuity.

Appropriate price — from our ALR-protection standpoint

With regard to price, from an ALR-protection standpoint it is best that the asking price for the Development Lands (as for the Public Lands) be the amount that will enable Canada Lands Company to be “made whole,” i.e., to recover its costs. (The obvious approach is to set the price at the fair market value stated in the MOU, plus the reasonable expenses.)

In contrast, one trial balloon argues that the company and/or the band should receive far more per acre because they expected to get more. We strongly object. It would set a precedent that land speculators that acquire an interest in ALR land in the hope of ALR-exclusion and rezoning are entitled to the price they would have received if the land had been excluded and rezoned. (The precedent would be cited, for example, if government at any level wanted to obtain such land, even for ALR-permitted purposes.) The precedent would be harmful to the future of agricultural land in British Columbia and of the ALR itself. Furthermore, nothing in the MOU says that any party should make large profits from land speculation, so enabling such profits is not implicit in the goal of achieving the spirit of the MOU to the extent possible in the changed circumstances.

The final-ownership aspect

From the perspective of the goals of the Garden City Lands Coalition, there is no particular configuration of final ownership that is necessarily best. The best final situation could, for example, be ownership by a land conservancy or a federal department such as Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada. As it stands now, though, the City of Richmond has the inside track for a number of reasons, including these two:

It has an enforceable right to buy half the property sooner or later, and that is also clearly the intent that was stated by the federal Crown when announcing the MOU in 2005.

It also has a right of first offer if Canada Lands Company and the Musqueam ever declare as a partnership that the other half is for sale. Along with that, there is a right of first offer to just the Musqueam part, which would be up to a quarter of the whole property, if the Musqueam have ever first taken the step of replacing their beneficial interest with ownership of up to a quarter of the property.

As far as we can determine, bait of possible willingness to sell has been dangled in front of the City of Richmond for about a month. There does not seem to have been any formal declaration that the partnership and/or the Musqueam acting alone have decided not to develop their part of the property and instead to sell it.

At the moment, we are at a loss to comprehend why the City is apparently considering making an offer when there does not yet appear to have been renegotiation of alternative ways for Canada Lands Company, along with the band, to develop the Development Lands. The only given in that regard is that the uses will have to be ALR-permissible. It is surely ideal to have as many of the parties as possible participating in ensuring that the Garden City Lands have a green future for community benefit for all time.

(But we still love you, City of Richmond! )
(Especially when you’re your best self.)


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