Manitoba

Legal victory for Parker lands developers after judge orders city to hold hearings

A judge has ordered the City of Winnipeg to grand a hearing to the Parker Lands developers, handing them a victory in their battle to get the city to consider their proposal.

City centre committee must hold hearing on Nov. 13

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

A judge has handed a legal victory to the Parker Lands developers, ordering the City of Winnipeg to grant a hearing on its proposed development. 

Developer Gem Equities and its owner Andrew Marquess complained about delays, arguing the city changed the process for considering their rezoning application.

"It's been a very lengthy time, over four years to get to this point, and the judge found that the delay was not explained by the city," said Dave Hill, lawyer for Marquess.

Hill says this decision saves their plan from an uncertain fate. City planners had already advised council not to grant a hearing on the proposal because they argued it lacks detail, is unsuitable for the area and does not guarantee the protection of remaining forest on the Parker Lands.

Now, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Candace Grammond has ordered the city centre community committee to hold a public hearing on Nov. 13.

"This is a very very significant decision, because it totally thwarted the attempt by the senior administration to avoid the process all together," said lawyer Dave Hill.

Gem Equities wants to build 1,740 housing units on a triangle of Fort Garry land, bordered by the next leg of the Southwest Transitway to the south, the CNR Rivers main line to the north and the Winnipeg Humane Society property to the west. It got the land in a 2009 land-swap with the city, which was later called a "rush job" of a real estate deal.

Fulton Grove is supposed to be transit-oriented development, including residential towers close to the forthcoming Parker rapid transit station. 

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

After clearing land for the development last year — over objections from protesters concerned about the loss of aspen forest — Gem Equities submitted a formal plan to rezone the land for residential use and subdivide it into lots.

City planners, however, refused to allow the proposal to proceed to a public hearing, claiming the plan doesn't comply with city zoning rules governing developments near rapid-transit stations.

The city had argued the developer's plan needed to go through a statutory by-law process, which requires a vote by city council before it could move to a hearing.

But the developers said the city originally told them their proposal could be adopted as a policy, which doesn't require a vote by council before hearings can begin.

"Given the time and resources expended by both sides with respect to the development of the land, the fairness of this change mid-process is questionable," Grammond wrote in her decision.

A spokesperson for the city said it had just received notice of the judge's decision and it is under review.

Marquess has accused the city of opposing the project, but Grammond did not find evidence to support that.

"There is no specific evidence as to the city's intentions ... and I am not prepared to conclude that it acted in bad faith," she wrote.

Hill says the developers plan to attend city council's meeting Thursday morning to urge councillors to allow the November hearing to go ahead as ordered. 

A report on Thursday morning's agenda recommends councillors reject the proposal and send it back to Gem Equities to be amended. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to cameron.maclean@cbc.ca.

With files from Bartley Kives

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