Parker lands developer taking city to court over alleged 'delay tactics'

The developer behind the beleaguered Parker lands project wants a court to order the City of Winnipeg's city centre community committee to grant them a hearing on their proposal.

Developer alleges shifting, arbitrary requirements and unfair treatment by city officials

Vote on fate of the controversial development now goes to city's executive policy committee. (Gem Equities)

The developer behind the beleaguered Parker lands project faces off against the City of Winnipeg in court on Monday, accusing the city of using "delay tactics" and refusing to grant them a public hearing.

"[The] City of Winnipeg, through its administrative officials, has abused its discretion by acting for an improper purpose, with malice, bad faith or by referring to irrelevant considerations," says a court notice filed earlier this month.

Developer Andrew Marquess, owner of Gem Equities, and business partner Moray Tawse have been trying for years to get approval to build 1,740 housing units on land near the next leg of the southwest transit corridor and the CN Railway Rivers main line.

Marquess has accused the city — and River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow specifically — of opposing the project.

In April, city planners rejected the developer's plans, claiming the proposal contravenes city guidelines for housing near rapid-transit stations.

Fulton Grove development on Parker lands could cost city millions in fines and legal costs. (Gem Equities)

The developer was scheduled to appeal to the city's property committee on March 7, but the appeal didn't happen because chief planner Braden Smith told the committee his department no longer objects to a hearing on the development, known as Fulton Grove.

That seemed to clear the way for the proposal to proceed to a hearing with the City Centre community committee, but that hasn't happened yet.

Now, Marquess alleges the city has "refused and failed to exercise its jurisdiction" and has applied for a court to order the community committee to hold a hearing on the proposal at its Sept. 18 meeting.

The court will hear that application Monday.

Requirements change 'on a weekly basis'

In an affidavit filed on behalf of the developer, Gem Equities employee Chris Snelgrove describes an incident on May 11 when he brought a rezoning application to the zoning and permits department.

In the affidavit, Snelgrove says he was resubmitting documents that had been filed previously, but no record of the documents could be found.

After starting a new application, the city employee phoned Michael Robinson, a senior planer with the city's planning and property development, who said that Snelgrove should leave only one copy of the documents, even though five were required for a complete application.

Developer Andrew Marquess says he decided to file the application for a court hearing as a result of the conduct of the city employees. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

"I asked [the employee] if this was a normal way for such an application to be processed to which he initially replied 'no,' but then quickly rephrased to 'yes,'" Snelgrove says in the affidavit.

The employee told Snelgrove that there would likely be changes the developer would be required to make to the application, which is why he only wanted one copy for Robinson.

It is impossible to measure exactly the financial impact of the project due to our inability to proceed with the development.- Andrew Marquess, developer

On May 18, the employee emailed Snelgrove and Marquess, suggesting they come pick up the documents and make the changes Robinson had requested, the affidavit says.

But on May 28, Robinson emailed to say that no revisions had been requested.

In an email to city officials, Marquess said: "The required documentation for the development application changes on a weekly basis and shows again how this application is treated differently from other applications."

He goes on to say in the affidavit: "In all the years I have done development work … I have never seen such a precondition that mandates the redesign of the development's site plan to match an individual planner's personal preference before the application was allowed to be submitted for internal review by city departments and to move forward to a public hearing."

Marquess says he decided to file the application for a court hearing as a result of the conduct of the city employees.

Marquess eventually obtained a court order to remove protesters who had camped on the Parker land for several weeks in the summer of 2017. He is suing nearly 50 people allegedly connected to the protest camp. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

The process of getting approval for the Parker lands development has gone on for more than four years. In addition to difficulty getting city approval, Marquess is also suing nearly 50 people allegedly connected to a protest camp that was set up on the land in an effort to halt the clearing of trees.

Marquess says interest on the mortgages registered on the land is costing him $5,717 per day.

"It is impossible to measure exactly the financial impact of the project due to our inability to proceed with the development," he says in the affidavit.

CBC News requested comment from John Orlikow, who referred all legal questions to the city solicitor. A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg offered no comment because the matter is before the court.

With files from Bartley Kives