Crazed Whitecaps on Garden City Lands?

“Richmond in mix for Whitecaps soccer facility,” exults a Richmond Review front-page headline. The article says this:

In 2005 the City of Richmond reached a memorandum of understanding to obtain a sizable portion of the 55-hectare Garden City Lands.

At that time, George Duncan, the city’s chief administrative officer, reportedly said that the city would be open to exploratory discussions. Basically, he just acknowledged that Richmond is open for business. If George Duncan had chosen to be less diplomatic, he could have said that the idea was ludicrous at best. Here’s why, starting with some fundamental facts.

In rounded numbers, the MOU divided the 55 hectares (ha) like this:

  • 36 hectares for high-density residential development (27.6 ha) and a “trade and exhibition centre” (8.3 ha)
  • 19 hectares for Richmond amenities

The Vancouver Whitecaps are seeking up to 12 hectares for the proposed practice facility for them and the Canadian national soccer team. Subtract that from the “Richmond amenities” area and only 7 hectares of the Garden City Lands remain. That’s would have been a bit over one-eighth of the property for the three “Richmond uses” that Richmond council unanimously endorsed on December 17, 2007:

  • urban agriculture
  • community wellness and healthy lifestyles
  • showcasing environmental sustainability

Even if shortchanging the Richmond uses made any sense and even if the Whitecaps and national team had allowed some local use of their facility, the Richmond uses would have lost out badly. That would have eliminated the only slightly credible reason for Richmond’s involvement in the bad deal.

However, the Vancouver Whitecaps facility couldn’t have been built on the lands anyway. That’s because what Richmond hoped to buy from Canada Lands Company would have been “scattered throughout the entire Garden City Property.” (The MOU said that, and the later purchase agreement confirmed it.) In other words, it would have provided green space for the development. Canada Lands Company and the Musqueam Indian Band (CLC’s partner, with a 50% beneficial interest) needed the scattering for that purpose, and soccer fields scattered through a development of tall buildings wouldn’t have satisfied the Vancouver Whitecaps’ purposes anyway.

Realize also that the City of Richmond allowed CLC, along with the Band, to hold all the cards in the Garden City Lands agreements. Essentially, the City had to do the community planning, zoning, and subdividing of the high-density residential parcels to the satisfaction of its partners before the City could eventually buy part of the property. As the purchase agreement puts, “If the Subdivision Approval Condition is not satisfied by the date limited therefor in this Section 4.5 above, this Agreement will be null and void and of no further force or effect.”

If the lands had been removed from the ALR, the City might have completed the purchase a few years later, since its partners needed the City to maintain green space for them. However, the Band’s current lawsuit against the City shows the level of difficulties the City would have faced before and even after the purchase. For instance, the City could have been sued for breaking the Public Lands Restrictive Covenant (in favour of CLC and the Band), since the wording limited the City to “public park or public amenities.” The City could not have sold the land to the Vancouver Whitecaps, and even leasing it to them would have made any public use of the leased-out property ancillary to the commercial use. It would most likely have been seen as a violation of the covenant and a reason for the City to pay damages.

Under those circumstances, the Vancouver Whitecaps would not have been crazy enough to get involved with the Garden City Lands.

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