City forges ahead with Valley Line West LRT expropriation plans

As the Valley Line West LRT nears construction, the city is upping the ante on acquiring land needed for the expansion.

200 properties identified as needed for Valley Line West construction by late 2019

By June 13, the city had acquired nearly one third of the 200 properties needed for the Valley Line LRT expansion into west Edmonton. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Hundreds of properties in west Edmonton have been marked as future build sites for the Valley Line West LRT, including homes that would be demolished.

As of Thursday, the city had identified 200 properties needed for the proposed route, which cuts through neighbourhoods including Oliver, Glenora and Jasper Place.

If property owners don't agree to a fair sale, the city has the power to expropriate their land.

Already, city council has approved the expropriation of 13 properties, but expropriation would only be used as a last resort if negotiations fail.

The Valley Line West LRT expansion is in its design phase, with construction planned for late 2019 or early 2020. (Google Maps)

The mix of residential and business properties would be affected to varying degrees, said Eva Cheung, Valley Line West LRT project manager.

In some cases, the city needs a sliver of land for a new sidewalk. In others, the city wants entire properties and plans to tear down any structures built on the land.

The 200 plots identified for LRT construction do not all have buildings on them.

Nearly one third have already been acquired, either through negotiations with owners or by an opportunity purchase at a time when the property was for sale.

The city is in negotiations to acquire the remaining land needed for the project, which is still in its design phase.

Valley Line West will be an urban-style LRT line between 102nd Street downtown and Lewis Farms in the west end.

Construction is scheduled to begin by late 2019 or early 2020, Cheung said, by which time the city will need to secure all land required for the expansion.

Ideally, she said, property owners will agree to sell their land for a fair market price. If that fails, the city will resort to expropriation. 

"It really is a last resort in order to protect our ability to deliver the project as per council directions and timelines," Cheung said.

The city acquired land from 140 properties for the southeast leg of the Valley Line LRT, which is currently under construction. It will link 102nd Street downtown to Mill Woods Town Centre.

Expropriation approved on 13 properties

Before an expropriation can begin, city council must approve a commencement report. Once the expropriation starts, property owners can file an appeal under the Alberta Expropriation Act

Two reports have been approved so far, containing a total of 13 properties. A third report will go to council this summer.

None of the properties approved by council have been expropriated yet, Cheung said.

She said the paperwork was filed and approved in case negotiations fail, adding the city intends to hold off on forcing the sales for as long as possible.

"Even though we brought forward the reports to city council for the approval to commence expropriation, negotiation can still occur during this time," Cheung said.

"Our team is still working with the individual property owners to hopefully come to an agreement."

Blessing in disguise?

People forced to sell their properties will enter a buyers' market, said Darcy Torhjelm, chair of the Realtors Association of Edmonton.

"It's a good market to be in because there's a lot of choice out there," Torhjelm said.

Property owners facing expropriation will enter a buyers' market in Edmonton, said Darcy Torhjelm, chair of the Realtors Association of Edmonton. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Prices in Edmonton are steady, with no indication that they will increase within the next five years, he said. Meanwhile, most sellers are in sharp competition for buyers.

"If you were trying to sell your house, you might not have the best of luck," Torhjelm said.

As such, expropriation may be a blessing in disguise for property owners who had planned to sell anyway, he said.

"If you had a property that you were being forced to sell and had to buy another one and you got fair market value [for your property], you've got cash in a marketplace where you can buy something where you've got a lot of choice."