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This article was published 28/8/2018 (420 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
City officials have given a thumbs down to developer Andrew Marquess and his plans for redevelopment of the Parker lands.
The city’s planning staff is recommending councillors reject the plan Marquess’ firm has proposed for the 133-acre parcel, which is located south of the CN Rivers rail line and west of Pembina Highway.
In an administrative report, planning staff said Marquess’ proposal, known as a secondary plan, differs substantially from what he had initially disclosed at public meetings, with higher residential density, allowing industrial development adjacent to residential pockets, and eliminating a forest area that he originally promised to protect.
Marquess said the planning staff’s objections outlined in the report have never been raised with him.
"After we submitted the plans, (city staff) said they’d get back to us and they never did," Marquee said. "Instead, we see their objections for the very first time in this report. It’s crazy, what’s going on here. All I know is it’s very unusual."
The administrative recommendation will be considered by the property and development committee Sept. 4 and later by council.
The administration recommendation is the latest development in an ongoing drama over the Parker redevelopment that dates back to 2009, when Marquess obtained 59 acres of the Parker lands in a controversial land swap deal with city hall. His company, Gem Equities, later acquired another 14 acres of nearby land from CN Rail. The city expropriated 24.5 acres of the parcel — most of that (16.5 acres) to accommodate a giant storm-retention pond, four acres to accommodate the relocation of Manitoba Hydro transmission lines for the transit corridor, and another four acres needed for the construction of the corridor itself.
The expropriation for the retention pond was controversial after a 2015 inquiry concluded civic officials had misled Marquess and the actions of several civic officials had been secretive and dishonest in their dealings with him
Development on the site has been contentious. Environmental groups opposed the land swap and protesters occupied the property last summer to block the removal of trees. Marquess had to go to court to enforce an eviction order against the protesters and has since sued the leaders of the group and many of the protesters.
Marquess went to city hall in April, alleging that city officials had reneged on a commitment to allow the project to proceed and later produced emails from city staff supporting his allegations.
Most recently, Marquess has taken city hall to court to compel the city to hold public hearings on the secondary plan and on the rezoning for his project.
While the secondary plan would govern development within a wider 133-acre area, Marquess is proposing a massive multi-residential and commercial development, known as Fulton Grove, on a 47-acre parcel immediately north of the second stage of the southwest transit corridor.
Fulton Grove involves the construction of 1,900 residential units in a mix of single family homes, duplexes and four-plexes, and apartment buildings ranging in height from four to 10 stories.
Marquess said he was surprised by the city planning department’s rejection of the secondary plan, explaining he was in court August 22 seeking a motion to compel the city to hold a public hearing on a rezoning application. The court proceeding was adjourned to Sept. 10.
"This comes out of the blue," Marquess said of the administration recommendation, adding he doesn’t understand why the administration made the recommendation when both sides are in the middle of a court action.
The administrative report, authored by chief planner Braden Smith, said Marquess’ plan for the property "fails to provide clear direction as to how development within the plan area should occur."
Smith added that the proposed plan doesn’t provide enough detail to properly evaluate development proposals, is missing important content and policies, and "requires significant ‘clean up’ and re-organization before it can be considered for adoption as a Council By-law."
Smith said if councillors agree to reject the plan, he recommends that they give Marquess an opportunity to revise the secondary plan and bring it back for consideration without having to resubmit the plan as a new document.
Marquess’ lawyer, Dave Hill, said there is no logical reason for planning staff to reject the secondary plan, adding that material submitted for the August 22 court hearing included several detailed reports from city planning staff which concluded that the secondary plan and a rezoning application complied with all of the city’s development guidelines.
Hill said city lawyers told the court August 22 that they needed more time to consider the submission, adding he doesn’t understand how city staff can reject the plan outright now.
"In my opinion, the city is trying to bypass and subvert the power of the court," Hill said.
Hill said the city’s objections to the Marquess project could be linked to a dispute over the value of a portion of the property the city has expropriated for the nearby storm retention pond project.
Hill said if Marquess isn’t allowed to develop the property to its highest value, then that would lower the value of the land and the cost to city for the expropriated portion.
Marquess has valued the expropriated land at $1.7 million an acre, for total of almost $35 million; while the city has offered Marquess $116,500 per acre, about $2.4 million.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 6:22 PM CDT: Updates headline.