Toronto

Etobicoke MP denies backing developer instead of residents

Etobicoke MP James Maloney says he never asked Metrolinx to drop its challenge of a controversial city council decision that benefits a local developer.

James Maloney says he has no 'fiduciary relationship' with developer

Liberal MP James Maloney denies that he approached Metrolinx's Chief Planner Leslie Woo and encouraged the agency to drop its appeal of a controversial rezoning decision made by city council this summer. (James Maloney MP/Twitter)

Etobicoke MP James Maloney says he never asked Metrolinx to drop its challenge of a controversial city council decision that benefits a local developer.

In an email to CBC News Tuesday morning, Maloney conceded he was at a meeting with Metrolinx planners to discuss transit issues along the Lakeshore West rail corridor. Last week, CBC News reported that Maloney took the opportunity to urge Metrolinx's Chief Planner Leslie Woo to drop the appeal. The appeal will be heard at the Ontario Municipal Board, which can either uphold council's decision or overturn it.

In his statement to CBC, Maloney wrote: "I did not ask Metrolinx to drop the OMB appeal. As you know, the OMB is an independent tribunal and it would be inappropriate for me to speak for or against a specific appeal."

However, sources with knowledge of the situation maintain Maloney urged Metrolinx to negotiate a settlement with the developer and local residents. Metrolinx has stated publicly that it plans to move ahead with the appeal — not a settlement — as council's decision will have dire consequences for its plans to expand GTA rail service and the future of a rail maintenance facility that recently underwent a $100 million expansion. Nearby residents also say they support the Metrolinx appeal and were "astounded" Maloney intervened in the issue without consulting them.

City council's decision benefited local developer Dunpar Homes

The controversy began this summer when Toronto's city council voted 21-15 to rezone lands on Judson Street in south Etobicoke. Local developer Dunpar Homes Ltd., had applied to build townhomes and a commercial building there.

But city planners found the lands were unsuitable for homes because they are too close to a busy rail line and too close to a massive Metrolinx rail maintenance facility that will soon run 24/7 to meet the GTA's need for more frequent transit service. In fact, Metrolinx warned councillors the facility might have to close if new residents complained about noise or vibrations coming from the maintenance yard.

Yet city council, at the request of Etobicoke Councillors Mark Grimes and Justin Di Ciano, voted to rezone the lands, a move that would benefit the developer. CBC News has reported on Di Ciano's ties to Dunpar. The city's integrity commissioner is now investigating allegations Di Ciano may have benefited "financially and politically" from the developer.

They are claims Di Ciano has denied. In a statement to CBC, the councillor said: "I do not believe that I have contravened the City's Code of Conduct (or the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act for that matter), and am taking that position in responding to the complaint with the Integrity Commissioner." 

Maloney has ties to local councillors and Dunpar

Maloney is a close political ally of both Grimes and Di Ciano. Maloney managed Grimes' past municipal campaigns. And last year, Di Ciano's twin brother Julian helped manage Maloney's federal campaign.

CBC News reported Maloney, the rookie Liberal MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, also has some ties to Dunpar. His Etobicoke constituency office is located on Islington Avenue in a building owned by Dunpar president John Zanini. Parliamentary records show Maloney spent $12,435.00 of public funds in the last quarter to rent the office. The office is on the second floor of a two-storey strip mall that will likely be demolished. Dunpar has begun selling townhomes they plan to build on the site. 

In his email Tuesday, Maloney wrote: "I do not have a fiduciary relationship with Dunpar or any other developer. The only fiduciary relationship I have is with the constituents of Etobicoke-Lakeshore and it was on their behalf that I asked about the issue."

Maloney also said he discussed concerns Judson Street residents have about a nearby concrete batching plant: "During the Metrolinx presentation the Judson location was mentioned. I asked what the status of this location was on behalf of my constituents who reside in that neighbourhood. As you are aware, the concrete batching facility located there is of grave concern to the local residents and therefore of grave concern to me. The sole purpose of asking the question was in an effort to see how the concrete facility can be removed."

City planning documents show Dunpar has a conditional offer to buy the plant and hopes to build a condo tower there. But the deal is conditional on city council rezoning those lands, too. It could be years before the plant moves, if at all. 

CBC News reported that Metrolinx officials told Maloney it would be inappropriate to discuss the situation while their OMB appeal is pending. He did not respond to questions from CBC News last week.

John Lancaster can be reached at 416-205-7538 or john.lancaster@cbc.ca

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