Parker lands developer accuses councillor of bias, meddling in project

Developer Andrew Marquess has accused Coun. John Orlikow of being "an avowed opponent" of the development of the Parker lands, throwing the planning process for the residential development into disarray.

Hearing adjourns abruptly after Coun. John Orlikow accused of being 'avowed opponent' of project

Developer Andrew Marquess, left, and lawyer Kevin Toyne say Coun. John Orlikow is biased against the development of the Parker lands. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

Developer Andrew Marquess has accused Coun. John Orlikow of being "an avowed opponent" of the development of the Parker lands, throwing the planning process for the residential development into disarray.

Marquess and his company, Gem Equities, want to build residential towers, townhouses and single-family homes on a triangle of Fort Garry land sandwiched between the next leg of the Southwest Transitway and the Canadian National railway line south of Taylor Avenue.

On Monday, the developer accused Orlikow, who's both the area councillor and chair of council's property committee, of being biased against the project, attempting to force the sale of some of the land and siding with protestors who occupied part of the site last summer.

"This opposition began in 2009 and continues to this day, which is a period of nine years," Marquess told Orlikow in a registered letter distributed to reporters by Kevin Toyne, a litigation lawyer who works for Marquess.

"This clearly demonstrates you can not be impartial on this matter as a sitting member of the decision-making bodies hearing the applications regarding this development."

The accusation came as council's property committee was about to hear Marquess and Toyne appeal a city decision to prevent the developer from proceeding with a plan for the development, which Marquess calls Fulton Grove.

When Toyne asked Orlikow if he would step away from the meeting, the appeal hearing was adjourned to a later date.

"We were simply following established legal practice to ask Coun. Orlikow to recuse himself, and there was absolutely no reason to delay the hearing today," Toyne said to reporters.

Orlikow said he will check with the city clerk, city legal staff and possibly the city's integrity commissioner before he decides how to proceed.

But he rejected any claim of bias against either Marquess or the development of the Parker lands.

"I find it unfortunate they feel that and that's their opinion. I feel it's quite unfortunate they made that public today," Orlikow said, suggesting the accusations are tantamount to defamation.

"The threats that have been coming forward have been quite intense for quite a while," the councillor said. "We really work hard in the department to make sure we're always above reproach."

A man's head and shoulders.
Coun. John Orlikow calls the accusations unfortunate. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The accusation against Orlikow is the latest conflagration in a nine-year Parker lands saga that began in 2009, when the city transferred the unserviced industrial property to Marquess.

The land exchange, made public only days before a city council vote, was assailed in 2014 by an external audit of City of Winnipeg real-estate transactions, whose authors concluded the swap was a "rush job" conducted without proper appraisals of either of the properties.

The Parker land swap also outraged several longtime Parker-area residents, sparking a campaign against the development, originally on an environmental basis. 

The scope of the protests expanded in 2017 to include Indigenous concerns that development was proceeding without consideration of the traditional uses of the land.

The city and Marquess also became embroiled in a dispute over land expropriation.

But the latest dust-up followed a city decision that planning, property and development director John Kiernan described as a simple matter of following process.

Kiernan said city planners are not opposed to what Marquess has planned for Parker. Rather, a number of city departments are still reviewing Gem's plan for the Parker neighbourhood, Kiernan said.

Gem jumped the gun by attempting to rezone the industrial land right now, before the overall plan is ready, Kiernan said.

"We're not rejecting it based on content. We're simply saying it's premature," he said.

Marquess, however, said he's frustrated with his dealings with the city.

"We've been at this process for a long period of time," he said. "We've done 24 drafts of the secondary plan. We had three different planners assigned to the project.

"It's just strange when something you think would benefit the city would be met with such opposition."


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.