Parker lands battle takes another legal twist before Winnipeg city council vote

On the heels of a narrow decision by its executive policy committee to reject his development plans, the City of Winnipeg now faces another legal salvo from the owner of a parcel of land that has been tied up in years of legal wrangling.

Developer Andrew Marquess’s proposal to build hundreds of units of housing on the Parker lands, a 19-hectare property in the city’s Fort Garry area, was rejected Wednesday, in a 4-3 vote by members of council’s executive committee.

On Thursday, Marquess’s legal team filed an amended a statement of claim in a $30-million lawsuit against several City of Winnipeg planners.

The claim alleges some staff at the city purposefully sought ways to delay issuing permits to Marquess and to limit or stop his planned Fulton Grove development on the Parker lands.

City planners had previously refused to allow the proposal to proceed, claiming it didn’t comply with zoning rules around developments near rapid-transit stations.

The lawsuit contends the effort to limit the number of housing units on the Fulton Grove development was connected to another dispute between the city and Marquess over the value of some property adjacent to it.

Fulton Grove development on Parker lands supposed to leverage access to southwest rapid transit but has been mired in controversy. (Gem Equities)

In 2016, the city expropriated 10 hectares of land from Marquess to build a retention pond and part of the now-completed southwest rapid transit line. Marquess had acquired that property in a land swap with the city in 2009, before city staff realized they needed it for the retention pond. He retained ownership of several adjacent hectares, which he has been attempting for years to develop.

The two sides were millions of dollars apart on the value of the expropriated property, and that dispute is now in front of the province’s Land Value Appraisal Commission.

In the meantime, Marquess has been involved in two other legal disputes with the city.

In August 2019, a Manitoba judge ruled that the city had intentionally violated her order to hold a public meeting on the development and found the city in contempt of court. She repeated that order last month, saying the city remained in contempt.

marathon nine-hour session of the city’s property and planning committee earlier this week, which heard submissions from both Marquess and his team, and the planners assigned to the file, appears to have satisfied that order.

Marquess is also battling the city in a court case alleging abuse of power during the process. He’s seeking at least $30 million in damages for lost revenue due to delays of the Parker lands development.

An affidavit from Marquess filed this week in connection with that case contains dozens of internal communications between planners over the course of several years. 

One July 2016 email from a city planner to his superior says he and one of his co-workers were “caught in a dilemma”  because River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow wanted to limit density on the Parker lands “for non-planning related reasons.”

The email goes on to say Orlikow “appears to feel that giving property rights to build above six [storeys] would increase the value of the retention pond land, which is being valued as part of the expropriation.” 

Orlikow declined to speak to CBC News. The city administration also declined comment saying the matter was before the courts.

Following Monday’s property and planning committee meeting, the issue moved to a vote at the executive policy committee without a recommendation from the property committee.

At the EPC meeting this week, Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) attempted to have the committee take a look at information in Marquess’s affidavit more closely before a vote, but was told by the city clerk new information could not be introduced at that point.

Council still to vote on Parker development

The property committee heard at its meeting that there were disagreements between the developer and city planners over the density of the project, how close it was to nearby amenities such as grocery stores and whether sidewalks were included in the plan.

Marquess’s team argued the density of their plan was ideally suited to a neighbourhood in close proximity to two transit stops on a rapid transit line to the University of Manitoba that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct.

Councillors on the committee were urged to reject the plan because there wasn’t enough park space and it didn’t contain any forested area.

The two sides also disagreed over the value of having a pedestrian bridge over nearby rail lines that would have linked the development to commercial amenities on Taylor Avenue, and whether serious efforts had been made by the city to engage Canadian National Railway on such a proposal.

With Wednesday’s narrow 4-3 vote against approval of the development plan at the executive policy committee, the last stop on the long municipal process for the Parker lands development reaches city council next Thursday.

Mayor Brian Bowman and Couns. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) and Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) voted against the project, while Couns. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Scott Gillingham (St. James) and Brian Mayes (St. Vital) voted for it.

Mayes brushed aside the legal fires burning around the development, saying those issues would be separate from the discussions to come at city council.

“I continue to have an open mind  — there will be another debate on this,” Mayes told CBC News.

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