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This article was published 25/6/2018 (612 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A multimillion-dollar condo development in St. Boniface has been held up in the past two years because of opposition from two homeowners who refuse to play ball with the city and a developer.
Pedestrians walking on the 800 block of Tache Avenue in North St. Boniface will likely have their eye caught by two large signs. The first, standing tall in an empty lot, reads: "Coming Soon: 825 Tache Avenue." The second, only a stone’s throw away in a front yard, reads: "825 Tache Condos Not Coming."
"The whole process has been tainted. The city just rubber-stamped this as quickly as they could, before it went through the proper channels, through open house meetings and stuff like that," said Leo Pelland, one of the homeowners holding up the project.
This spring, after more than a year battling the city and developers, Pelland put the hand-painted "not coming" sign up in his front yard.
The dispute involves Pelland and his neighbour on one side, and the city and the developer, Sunstone Resort Communities, on the other. It centres around a piece of property and land-use rights that stretch back decades.
Because of the uncertainty over the project, Pelland said another development in the neighbourhood is at a standstill until his dispute with the city and Sunstone is settled.
"After the city gave (the project) the thumbs-up, I had 30 days to lawyer up and kibosh it. And we went after them, and we kiboshed it. Now, we’re in a stalemate. We’re basically saying, ‘You’re going to have to deal with us,’" Pelland said.
Pelland said that as far back as the late 1950s, the city told residents that properties on the block would be expropriated to become part of Whittier Park. That has never happened. In the early 1990s, Pelland asked the city if he could buy a parcel of land between his property and the park to extend his backyard.
The city turned him down, saying it would be part of the park one day.
"But the city also said, ‘Go ahead and use it. We won’t sell it to you, but you can certainly use the land until the day we’re going to come and expropriate you for the park," he said.
That led to a deal — which he says he has in writing — in which the city outlined that he’d have exclusive rights of the city land surrounding his property until the city moved to expropriate his land.
In recent years, however, the city has apparently changed its tune, with a park expansion seemingly no longer in the cards. Instead, a large plot of city land in the area was sold to Sunstone, so a condo complex could be built. Sunstone approached Pelland and his neighbour, seeking to buy them out, but Pelland characterized the offer as, "So low it wasn’t serious."
Pelland said the company — with the city’s co-operation — tried to build around the two homeowners: a move that would necessitate knocking down Pelland’s sheds and destroying half of his backyard.
"We would have gotten railroaded. They would have pushed their way right through. I would have lost everything: my right to sue, my back lane, my right of way, half my yard. It’s like the city forgot it signed an agreement with me, giving me exclusive right to use the land," Pelland said.
When reached for comment, a Sunstone spokesman said the company was "excited to be a part of rejuvenating the community" and looking forward to breaking ground on the project as soon as possible, but directed all questions to the City of Winnipeg. A city spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter because the case is before the courts.
Pelland, who is paying the legal costs of his neighbour, a woman in her 80s, said he’s sunk around $50,000 into the legal battle so far. He said he and his neighbour are willing to sell the land to Sunstone, but only at a fair price.
"I want the lands professionally appraised. I want 25 points on the land, and I want all of my (legal) costs that I’ve incurred reimbursed," Pelland said.
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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 Monday, June 25, 2018 at 8:07 AM CDT: Adds photos