Coalition to Canada Lands I

I sent the following this morning as a Garden City Lands Coalition Society message to the president of Canada Lands Company, cc-ing the usual parties and more.

Dear Mark Laroche, President and CEO, Canada Lands Company:

You will soon receive a couriered petition from the Garden City Lands Coalition Society. The 1,962 signatories want to keep the Garden City Lands green for community benefit. The petition requests the assistance of the Government of Canada, and we have chosen to send it directly to you because our members have reported that such requests typically get forwarded to you. We hope that this will lead to mutually beneficial results.

After a period of distrust that was not without reason, there has been a surge of awareness here that Canada Lands Company may be genuinely committed to ensuring local community benefit from the disposal of federal crown land. (The good news from Upton Farm on Prince Edward Island has spread.) We would like to obtain that benefit and to ensure that Canada Lands Company receives credit for it.

Since our society exists to save the Garden City Lands, we take care to be in tune with the related sense of community needs. In brief, the lands are seen as Richmond’s Stanley Park, as a linchpin of B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and as a carbon sink that is functionally useful and symbolically vital. The community includes the citizens of Richmond but goes well beyond that. People from all around B.C. and northern Washington are interested, and there is involvement especially from citizens of the neighbouring parts of Metro Vancouver.

We gather that your company and/or the Musqueam Indian Band have sought renegotiation of at least one understanding in the Garden City Property Memorandum of Understanding (the MOU) that cannot be met. We are pleased that your company seems committed to following the MOU’s “Contingencies” process: renegotiation, dispute resolution, and, if all else fails, cooperation in making whatever arrangements are necessary to restore the four parties to the position that each was in prior to entering into the MOU.

As you probably know, the MOU divides the Garden City Lands into two halves: the Development Lands (widely thought of as the CLC-Musqueam lands) and the Public Lands (widely thought of as the City of Richmond lands). There is still essentially no impediment to the intended Public Lands uses, but the MOU-specified uses for the Development Lands, which have never been permissible, may never become permissible, and that is certainly cause for renegotiation. We ask Canada Lands, as the party entrusted with the land title, to proactively ensure the negotiation of ALR-permitted uses for the property that are consistent with the community’s needs.

We recognize that in Richmond, as in Charlottetown with Upton Farm, Canada Lands Company should be made whole, recovering its purchase price and expenses, and presumably the same would apply to the Musqueam and City parties if they do not end up with an ownership interest. While minor adjustments will be needed for that purpose, we suggest that any sale price for the Development Lands be basically at the ALR land value, as it already is for the Public Lands. As long as Canada Lands Company ensures (perhaps by means of an unequivocally worded covenant registered against the title) that the property will be limited to ALR-permissible uses forever, the land value is presumably the same, or at least essentially the same, as the fair market value stated in the MOU.

You may wonder why we would get into suggestions about price. Our goal in that is to eliminate the odious kind of land speculation that had unfortunately slipped into the transfer of the Garden City Lands from the federal crown. Parties had become land speculators trying to use their immense power to destroy a community-treasured green space, valued throughout living memory as the people’s lands, for urban sprawl that Smart Growth BC has definitively identified as NOT Smart Growth. From the standpoint of protecting land capable of producing food, any speculative profit from the Garden City Lands would send out the wrong signal. A similar point could be made about protecting peatland serving as an active carbon sink, which is what the lands also happen to be.

Two years ago, the significance of the Garden City Lands was magnified a hundredfold when it became a linchpin of the ALR. That aspect came to public attention when developers’ association head Philip Hochstein wrote “Space Invaders,” an anti-ALR guest column in BC Business magazine (July 2007). Another analogy is that the Garden City Lands became a cleverly chosen battleground where the ALR was pitted against rampant development of agricultural land. The only reason the Garden City Property ALR-exclusion applications might have succeeded was the power of the applicants, and less-powerful speculators were no doubt watching and waiting to demand equal treatment, perhaps fatally weakening the ALR. We are asking you now to turn the tables in a way that strengthens the ALR.

By striving to meet true community need in the disposal of the Garden City Lands, Canada Lands Company will be saving not only a Richmond treasure in the form of the particular 136 acres of peatland green space in Richmond City Centre but also, to at least some extent, a British Columbia treasure in the form of the B.C. Agricultural Land Reserve. For certain, that is corporate social responsibility!

Sincerely,
Jim Wright
President, Garden City Lands Coalition Society

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