Making gold dust out of viaducts

No. 1 issue on City Council’s agenda over the past few months has been the removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. Last week this issue was finally put to a vote. With 5 in favour and 4 against, Council decided to remove them.

viaduct

Removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts is estimated to cost us $200 million. The benefits are less concrete — unless you’re a developer.

At first blush, Council’s decision would appear to be the right one: These unsightly structures will be removed. New park space will be created. And the door is now opened to the possibility of some social housing.

Unfortunately, after closer scrutiny, I’m not so certain Council made the right move.

As is so often the case with major decisions by this Vision Vancouver-dominated City Council, you have to follow the money to see what’s really at play. Developers, in particular Concord Pacific, will reap a win in the magnitude of tens of millions of dollars as a result of the removal of the viaducts. This is because developers own a lot of the land under and adjacent to the viaducts — land that will later be rezoned, bringing to these owners a windfall in increased density.

This exposes what I believe is a major objective of Vision Vancouver’s decision. The limited benefits that are a potential by-product of the removal of the viaducts pale in comparison to the placement of more money into the pockets of Vision’s big donors. (According to the Vancouver Sun, Concord Pacific donated $40,000 to Vision Vancouver’s election campaign in 2014 alone.)

I was particularly impressed by my favourite City Councillor’s “cut to the chase” question to Peter Webb, senior VP of development for Concord Pacific. At an earlier council meeting, Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr asked whether the demolition of the viaducts would increase the value of Concord’s property. According to the Vancouver Courier, Mr. Webb called it “a fair statement.”

But I’m sad to say that the media coverage of the viaduct removal over the past few months has largely failed to address the point Councillor Carr raised.

To make matters worse (leaving aside for a moment the windfall profit Concord Pacific and other developers will realize), let’s also not forget that you and I, the taxpayers, will foot the bill for a very significant part of this expensive undertaking. The total cost for the viaduct removal is estimated by city staff to be $200 million. Only part of this cost will be recovered by the city from developers and from the sale of newly opened up city-owned land.

All in all, I’m disappointed by City Council’s decision. Once again the interests of big developers have trumped the interests of you and me.

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