Stymied Parker lands developer files $30-M lawsuit against city, senior officials
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Winnipeg real estate developer Andrew Marquess has filed a lawsuit against city hall and four senior officials, accusing them of a co-ordinated effort to thwart his plan to develop the Parker lands.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday morning in Court of Queen’s Bench in Winnipeg, seeking at least $30 million in damages. The figure is a preliminary estimate and expected to rise daily, as further legal costs accrue.
The statement of claim — which contains accusations that have not been proven in court — alleges the defendants engaged in “misfeasance in public office,” or an abuse of power.
“We have spent nearly five years trying to get an application heard… It’s over and above what any person should have to go through when dealing with the senior administration officials of the City of Winnipeg,” Marquess said.
The four named defendants — John Kiernan, Braden Smith, Michael Robinson and Martin Grady — are all senior officials in the city’s planning, property and development department.
The latter three ultimately report to Kiernan, and the lawsuit is seeking to hold them all personally liable for damages. The City of Winnipeg, as their employer, is also legally liable.
The lawsuit alleges various unlawful activity, including denying a public hearing for the proposed development and refusing to process various applications. Marquess claims the group’s behaviour amounted to repeated efforts to stonewall his south Winnipeg development.
If not for that conduct, the project would now be nearing completion, the lawsuit alleges.
“It’s taken five years to do something the evidence (suggests) can be done in four to six months. It’s wrong. It’s unlawful. It’s intentional. That’s how I would characterize it,” said Dave Hill, one of Marquess’s lawyers.
The statement of claim was filed on behalf of two numbered companies connected to Marquess and his real estate development firm, Gem Equities Inc.
For more than four years, Marquess has been trying to get the Parker lands rezoned from an industrial park so he can move forward on a proposed 47-acre, 1,900-unit residential development called Fulton Grove.
The lawsuit makes clear Marquess and his legal counsel believe the senior city officials should be made an example of.
“Public officials that engage in such misfeasance must be condemned and punished, as a deterrent to other public officials that may be tempted to similarly violate the trust placed in them by the public,” the lawsuit reads.
Michael Jack, City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer, sent a written statement to the Free Press denying Marquess’s accusations.
“The defendants will, in due course, address each of the many false accusations in the plaintiffs statement of claim. Each of the defendant employees has, at all times, conducted themselves with the utmost integrity, competence and character, and have discharged their duties very effectively,” Jack wrote.
“The defendants have gone to extraordinary lengths to attempt to collaborate and co-operate with the plaintiffs and their agents in order to advance their applications to the point of readiness to be heard in the appropriate forums.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of another legal spat between city hall and Marquess.
On Sept. 19, a Court of Queen’s Bench judge ordered the city to hold a public hearing on the Fulton Grove project and his secondary plan for the area’s development. That ruling, which was in Marquess’s favour, forced the city to set a Nov. 13 meeting.
Hill made clear the current lawsuit is planned to go ahead regardless of the hearing’s outcome.
The Parker lands is located west of Pembina Highway and south of the CN Rivers rail line. The Fulton Grove development is to be on the northern most portion of the site.
Drama over the area’s development can be traced to 2009, when Marquess obtained 59 acres in a controversial land swap with the city. His company later acquired an additional 14 acres from CN Railway.
The city later expropriated 24.5 acres of the plot, and a significant dispute over the expropriated land’s evaluation remains unresolved.
In part, Marquess alleges the city’s effort to push back against his development is due to the land value dispute. He claims if the land remains undeveloped, the city can try to pay him less money for the expropriated land.
The City of Winnipeg has 20 days to file a statement of defence in connection with the lawsuit.
— with files from Aldo Santin
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 5:21 PM CDT: Adds video.