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Parker lands plan again rejected at city hall after City of Winnipeg found in contempt of court

A city committee will vote on a mixed-use development proposed for Winnipeg's Parker lands Thursday. The vote follows years of back and forth and a legal battle between the city and the developer.
A city committee will vote on a mixed-use development proposed for Winnipeg's Parker lands Thursday. The vote follows years of back and forth and a legal battle between the city and the developer. Richard Cloutier/Global News

A Winnipeg land developer’s plans for a multi-million dollar mixed-use development were again held up at city hall Thursday.

A judge found the city in contempt in 2019 for how it handled the proposal.

For more than six years, developer Andrew Marquess, owner of Gem Equities, has been trying to get city approval to build Fulton Grove, a 47-acre development along a stretch of the just-completed Southwest Transit Corridor in Fort Garry.

On Thursday his plan was rejected by city council’s standing policy committee on property and development.

READ MORE: City shows off Winnipeg’s Southwest Transitway in online video

City planners allege, among other things, that the proposal doesn’t meet the zoning regulations set out for developments built near rapid-transit stations.

Marquess eventually sued the city, and last August a judge found the city in contempt “for failing to process the applicants’ secondary plan … at a public meeting, pursuant to a non-statutory (policy) approach.”

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The property and development committee agreed with the city staff recommendations Thursday.

Coun. Sherri Rollins put forward a motion to agree with the staff recommendation to reject Marquess’ current proposal, which was seconded by Coun. Matt Allard.

“It seems to me the plan is not ready yet,” Allard said.

Committee chair Coun. Brian Mayes did not vote in favour of Rollins’ motion to reject the plan.

“Is it ideal? Are there grammatical mistakes? I’m sure there are,” said Mayes of the issues in the secondary plan. “But I don’t think we need to throw this whole thing out.”

“We have built a $490 million phase 2 ([rapid transit line] with a dog leg [splinter line] largely, not exclusively, but a big reason we took that route was to encourage development,” Mayes said in the preamble to his vote. “I don’t know why then we have taken the approach we have and we’ve continued to have no development on this site.”

A rezoning application for the proposed build was also rejected after a motion put forward by Rollins and seconded by Allard — Mayes again opposed it.

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Coun. Janice Lukes recused herself from the votes, saying she did not believe she was confident in the city’s legal ability to vote on the matter.

The rezoning and secondary plan applications came to the committee after an appeal by the city to reverse the judge’s decision was denied in March.

Marquess told Global News that the project would see multi-family housing, including 12-storey rental complexes on land between the second-phase of the southwest transit corridor and the CN tracks to the north of the Parker lands near the Winnipeg Humane Society on Hurst Way.

He says the development could ultimately be worth more than $500 million.

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“It’s about density and infill and creating a community where the more density you have, the more amenities that you can support. And it’s been very successful virtually everywhere it’s ever been tried,” he said on Wednesday before Thursday’s meeting.

“My hope is that council will see the vision, the value of the project and what it can do for Winnipeg, the economy, the province and everyone.”

City staff recommend vote against

A city report to the property and development committee recommends councillors reject the proposal and instead ask Gem to come back with an amended plan.

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As well as not meeting zoning requirements, the report said city staff identified more than 200 issues with the plan “some of which are minor in nature, while others are more substantive.”

“The plan requires significant ‘clean up’ and re-organization in order to clearly communicate the vision, objectives and policies against which future development proposals will be evaluated,” reads the report.

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“The plan is missing important content and policies necessary to clearly communicate the vision, objectives and policies against which future development proposals will be evaluated.”

A city spokesperson said Wednesday the city is still considering its legal options following the judge’s latest decision in March, which also ordered the city to pay Marquess’ legal fees.

“The city is still reviewing the court’s decision to determine next steps; regardless of our ongoing review, the committee will be following the process set out in the court decision at Thursday’s meeting,” the spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.

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The development’s master plan and rezoning would still have needed approval from the mayor’s executive policy council and council as a whole if the property and development committee had approved the plan.

Marquess says the city has delayed and placed unreasonable hurdles in his way to build Fulton Grove and adds the city can expect another date in court if it doesn’t abide by the judge’s orders this time.

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Marquess said Wednesday he will keep fighting to get the development built regardless of the council committee’s decision.

“I’m here, I’ll stick through this, and if it’s a rejection we’ll move forward and we’ll reapply again … I’m not going back down,” he said.

He reiterated those comments in a brief phone interview after the vote Thursday.

“I’m not going anywhere. This development will get built and we will continue on with this approvals process, whatever shape or form it may take,” he said.

— With files from Richard Cloutier and Erik Pindera