10 city lawyers fail to quash $30M lawsuit over slow development of Parker lands

A $30-million lawsuit against the City of Winnipeg over the slow development of the Parker lands is going ahead despite the efforts of 10 lawyers to get the legal action tossed out of court.

Since 2018, developer Andrew Marquess of Gem Equities has sought compensation from the city and four planning department officials for delaying the construction of a 19-hectare residential development called Fulton Grove.

An eight-week trial began on Sept. 7 with virtual hearings. Three days later, two lawyers for the city and eight lawyers for the planning officials filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing some evidence was introduced too late.

In a decision dated Monday, Queen’s Bench Justice Shauna McCarthy agreed Marquess’ lawyers failed to disclose some evidence early enough — but refused to dismiss the overall claim.

Dave Hill, a lawyer for Marquess, said he expects the trial to continue on Friday in a courtroom. Hill said he believes it’s one of the first civil trials to be held in a courtroom — as opposed to virtually — since the start of the pandemic.

The development at the centre of the lawsuit has been a source of conflict for the city since 2009, when Marquess acquired a large parcel of the Parker neighbourhood — a triangle of land on the northwestern edge of Fort Garry — in a land swap for a smaller chunk of land along the former Fort Rouge Yards.

That swap was one of five major real-estate transactions examined in 2014 by an external audit that called the deal a “rush job” conducted without proper appraisals of either property.

The land slated for development encompasses 19 hectares on the north edge of Fort Garry, alongside the Southwest Transitway. (CBC News Graphics)

Subsequent efforts by Marquess to develop the land were complicated by protests over the clearing of forests on the land in 2017 as well as the city’s refusal in 2018 to accept a zoning application and grant a hearing for a development involving the construction of 1,900 apartments, townhouse units and single-family homes.

In his 2018 statement of claim, Marquess alleged the city and the four officials — planning director John Kiernan, former chief planner Braden Smith, senior planner Michael Robinson and permits official Martin Grady — effectively abused their power when they refused to allow the development to proceed.

The development was eventually approved by city council in 2020, after a judge compelled the city to consider it.

The civil trial over the damages sought by Marquess is expected to last late into October.

In a statement, City of Winnipeg communications director Felicia Wiltshire acknowledged the court was not prepared to dismiss the lawsuit, but did award the city costs because Marquess’ lawyers introduced late evidence.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman declined to comment Tuesday, noting the matter is before the courts.

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