Mar 21, 2008 The Now News

Mayors OK with new TransLink real estate powers

Leneen Robb, Coquitlam NOW

Published: Friday, March 21, 2008

TransLink is creating a real estate division to buy properties around planned rapid transit lines and their stations -- including the Evergreen Line -- and either build on the properties or sell them for a profit as their values increase along with the density of their development.

The real estate division is being modelled after an agency in Hong Kong and, as the Vancouver Sun reported Wednesday, TransLink board chair Dale Parker believes it could generate up to $1.5 billion over the next decade.

The regional transportation authority's new powers, however, are also raising concerns.
In a Sun column Wednesday, Pete McMartin said the new TransLink was compared, at the paper's editorial board meeting, to the Mob, because of the potential for "profiteering by developers with insider knowledge" and for TransLink itself to apply pressure to municipalities to increase development, or miss out on rapid transit opportunities.

No matter who owns the land near rapid transit lines, city councils will still be responsible for determining what can be built on it through the rezoning process.

The mayors of both Port Moody and Coquitlam say as long as that process is respected, they don't predict any problems with TransLink's new real estate arm.

"As long as everybody's treated the same, then I don't foresee any issue," Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini said. "If, in fact, there's interference in the zoning process, then I see a huge problem."

Coquitlam Mayor Maxine Wilson took a similar view.

"The minister's been talking about that -- upzoning around stations could help finance the lines," she said, referring to provincial Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon.

"Where there are challenges for the city is, will we be able to get through zoning processes and then, secondly, what type of arrangement will there be to ensure that out of that upzoning comes community amenities?"

Two of the biggest stories in the Tri-Cities in recent weeks have concerned community opposition to high-density development in the form of proposed high-rises: one at Shaughnessy Street and Lions Way in Port Coquitlam and two at the Heritage Mountain shopping village in Port Moody.

That raises concerns that the already contentious process of planning the Evergreen Line's exact route and station locations could get a lot more contentious if TransLink spearheads a drive to ramp up development along the line.

Wilson, however, said she doesn't believe that will be a problem in Coquitlam, where 14 new highrises are either in the planning stages or already under construction in the city's Town Centre.

"Where it may face difficulty is where it goes through Port Moody," she said of the line, adding that in Burquitlam, residents want development -- "they're tired of waiting."

"I understand why they're doing it," she said of TransLink's move to create a real estate division, "because at the end of the day, the provincial government and the federal government will put in $800 million total (toward the Evergreen Line). There's still another $600 million to be raised, and so TransLink has to find a way to fund that.

"If they don't fund it through the real estate acquisition and profit, they'll have to fund it through the tax base and (transit) fares."