Property owners deserve compensation for RAV, Olympics harm

Some False Creek landowners learned recently that hosting the 2010 Olympics will not be all fun and games.

By The Vancouver Sun

Some False Creek landowners learned recently that hosting the 2010 Olympics will not be all fun and games.

Olympic organizers told them they will not be able to fully develop their holdings prior to the Winter Games because of the need for a security buffer zone around the athletes’ village.

Since the Games are still five years hence, the news of a development freeze on the landowners’ assets was a nasty shock. They will not be able to stop the clock on the cost of carrying the property, whether in terms of interest charges or lost opportunity.

They no doubt feel somewhat the same as the Cambie Street merchants who belatedly learned that the disruption to their businesses from the Richmond-Airport-Vancouver rapid transit line will be much worse than they anticipated.

That’s because the original proposal for bored tunnelling was turned into a cut-and-cover operation to lower the costs on the $1.7-billion project.

The merchants are launching a legal battle over the new plans because of what they fear will be ruinous damage to their businesses.

The Vancouver Sun supported both the Olympic bid and the RAV line because of their demonstrable benefits to our city and province.

But we have to bear in mind that these are net benefits — and where there are costs, they should not be forced unfairly on private individuals or businesses.

Governments have powers that are not available to individuals. So when they choose to use those powers for the common good, such as when they decide to expropriate property for a road, they have to ensure that individuals are fairly compensated.

In this case, both the property owners around the Olympic village and the Cambie Street merchants are facing what has the potential to be the equivalent of a public expropriation of value from private interests.

There is in effect no difference between taking away property and rendering it useless.

Of course, all of these cases have to be assessed on their own merits. One of the considerations with the RAV line is that at the end of construction, property owners along the route may get a windfall in the form of increased business or higher property values.

There may be similar gains associated with the Olympics.

This will make assessing claims somewhat complicated, but not so complicated that the governments involved should shy away from ensuring that no one’s rights are paved over just because a lot of other people will benefit.

The principle at stake is that where governments use their power to confiscate value for the common good, individuals must be compensated.

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