A Winnipeg city committee has given the OK to expropriate a chunk of land the city had swapped with a local developer five years ago but now needs back so it can build a retention pond and extend the rapid transit line.
The city's property and development committee voted on Tuesday in favour of the Cockburn-Calrossie sewer drainage project in the Parker Lands area, which includes digging a retention pond.
The committee also voted in favour of expropriating 35 properties to make way for the second phase of the city's Southwest Transitway corridor..
It will cost at least $8 million for land acquisition costs to extend the corridor from Jubilee Avenue to the University of Manitoba.
While the Parker Lands decision mainly involves drainage and preventing basement flooding in nearby homes, it's linked to the rapid transit expansion in that a small part of that land is needed for the transitway extension.
River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow, who chairs the property and development committee, said he reluctantly voted in favour of expropriation.
"I'm never pleased when the outcome at the end of the day, regardless of whatever reasons, is that we had land that we sold for a certain price and now we're going to have to buy it back again," he told reporters.
"If it's at the same price, who cares? But odds are it won't be the same price. The taxpayer is losing money."
The matter will now go to council's executive policy committee for review. If it's passed by that committee, it will then go to council as a whole for a final vote.
Former mayoral candidate David Sanders had urged the committee not to go ahead with expropriating the Parker Lands property, saying the land in question is "ecologically sensitive" and is already part of an RCMP investigation into city land deals.
He argued that councillors shouldn't rush to approve millions of dollars without more information.
"You dig yourself into a hole; stop digging. This is what the council is doing with this one. There's no reason for not taking some time to rethink this," Sanders told CBC News on Monday.
Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, a member of the committee, said at the meeting that he's on board with the BRT plan but not necessarily with the chosen route.
Wyatt also said there is no proof the Parker Lands area is ecologically sensitive.
Land swapped in 2009 deal
The 25-hectare property in question was swapped by the City of Winnipeg to Gem Equities in a controversial land deal in 2009.
Attempts to negotiate with the landowner have failed so far and the city is preparing to expropriate the land if a deal cannot be reached.
The city carried out the land swap with Marquess to acquire four hectares of land it needed for a transit garage.
Now, the land is needed to build the Cockburn-Calrossie sewer drainage project. The city placed a value on the property of $1 million in 2009 when it swapped the land to developer Andrew Marquess.
The retention pond project is part of the rapid transit expansion plan.
Diane Sacher, the city's director of water and waste, told the committee on Tuesday that the original plans for the Parker Lands BRT route did not require a retention pond.
Sacher said subsequent plans indicate that a pond is needed to facilitate drainage in the area. The Parker Lands property is the only suitable undeveloped area for the pond, she added.
The proposed eight-hectare retention pond would prevent basement flooding, she said.
But Sanders said he does not buy the city's argument that it now realizes it needs the land for drainage.
"I don't believe for one minute that the city administration wasn't aware of the need for a retention pond because I've examined some of the work to do with combined sewer outflow studies which go back as far at least as 1994 and the project committee included none other than Dave Wardrop, who's now the director of transit," he said.
"They know it was required and they know what was going on. It's just absurd."
Land deal singled out in recent audit
The land deal was controversial at the time and was singled out in a recent audit of city real estate transactions. That audit has been forwarded to the RCMP for review.
There was criticism at the time that city staff didn't do a complete valuation of the Parker Lands and a council decision to carry out the land swap was rushed through the process.
"The land swap happened under the previous administration when many of us had a lot of concerns about the way the administration was doing things, in particular the former CAO," said Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, another member of the committee.
"The fact is, we did need the land to expand the transit garage. We do now need to take back some lands to complete these projects. The projects are going ahead. This is stuff that needs to be done."
Interactive map: BRT land expropriation
The following map shows the approximate locations of properties that may have to be expropriated to make way for the second phase of the city's bus rapid transit system.