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Winnipeg’s Parker Lands development lawyer vows renewed court challenge

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

The lawyer who represents a Winnipeg land developer in a long-standing dispute with city hall over a proposed mixed-use development on a tract of land off Taylor Avenue has vowed to take the city back to court.

Andrew Marquess’s Gem Equities has owned the Parker Lands, a 47-acre tract near a section of the recently-completed southwest rapid transit line, since a land swap with the city in 2009.

In the 11 years since, the city has approved none of Gem Equities’s plans, despite multiple applications by Marquess’s company to build a mixed-use development, “transit-oriented” Fulton Grove, and a successful 2019 lawsuit against the city that saw a Court of Queen’s Bench justice order city council to consider his development.

The court later found the city in contempt for not hearing the proposal — the developer’s lawyer has since signaled the latest developments will mean further court challenges for city hall.

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City planning staff said they found more than 200 issues in Gem’s latest secondary plan and rezoning applications — the staff wrote that it does not meet zoning requirements for transit-adjacent developments.

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

The latest applications went to city council’s standing policy committee on property, planning and development Thursday, where it was rejected.

That committee agreed with the staff recommendation to reject Marquess’s current proposal — Coun. Sherri Rollins put forward the Thursday motion which was seconded by Coun. Matt Allard. Coun. Janice Lukes recused herself from the vote, citing legal conerns, while Coun. Brian Mayes voted against the motion.

At the mayor’s executive policy committee Friday, Rollins again put forward a motion agreeing with staff — all executive policy committee members with the exception of Mayes voted for the motion.

The matter goes to city council next week.

Click to play video 'Shindico Realty lawyer Justin Zarnowski on the company’s plans for Polo Park development' Shindico Realty lawyer Justin Zarnowski on the company’s plans for Polo Park development
Shindico Realty lawyer Justin Zarnowski on the company’s plans for Polo Park development

Meanwhile, Marquess’s lawyer Dave Hill argued Friday the two city council committee meetings this week do not meet the requirement put forward in the court order.

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“The [standing policy committee on property, planning and development], apparently on legal advice from the city lawyers, did not hold a public hearing dealing with the zoning matter. A public hearing requires a 14-day notice, and also allows representation to be made by people, including the applicant, and they got legal advice that they didn’t have to do it.”

Hill argued that means the city is still in contempt of court.

“If they don’t agree to do what the judge said, then we’ve got no alternative than to go back [to court] and ask her to find them in contempt again,” Hill said on 680 CJOB Friday morning.

“This time we’ll be asking for a fine, again.”

Mayor Brian Bowman would not comment directly when asked about Hill threatening to take the city back to court Friday.

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“I’m not able, for the record, to consider new information that isn’t being provided… to all members of council, so I’m not going to directly respond,” Bowman said. “All I’ll say is that we believe the court’s direction was clear, that this matter does need to proceed to council for consideration and that’s what the city is doing right now.”

Parker Lands dispute timeline

This is a timeline of key dates in the dispute, according to the most recent city staff report:

  • July 2009: City council approves a land exchange with Gem Equities for the Parker Lands, with Gem Equities on the hook for a plan and public consultations.
  • 2013: Gem Equities begins working on a plan with supporting engineering studies for the Parker Lands, in consultation with the city’s public service.
  • 2013-2017: Gem Equities makes a number of draft versions of the plan with feedback from the city’s public service. Refinements include clarification as to which portion of the remaining forest was to be protected.
  • 2016: Gem Equities hosts two public open house events.
  • December 2017: Gem Equities changes the plan to allow for higher residential densities and they plan to raze a portion of the forest. This was not mentioned in the open houses or applications to the city.
  • January 2018: Gem Equities submits an application to have the Parker Lands plan adopted by city council. They tell the city public service they will conduct online public engagement.
  • February 2018: Gem Equities submits an application to rezone 47 acres of land in the Parker Lands. The last piece of documentation required is received in August 2018, the city staff wrote in their report.
  • June 2018: The developer goes to the Court of Queen’s Bench to compel the city to hear the applicant’s development applications.
  • September 2018: The city’s property and development committee decides to simply put forward the matter to the mayor’s executive policy committee and city council. EPC passes it on to council. Meanwhile, the courts issue a decision compelling the city to hear the applications. The next day, council lays the matter over indefinitely.
  • October 2018: Gem Equities clears the remainder of the forest on their property. Meanwhile, the courts order the city centre community committee to hold a public hearing on the proposed development plan and rezoning.
  • November 2018: The committee holds a public meeting and hearing. They recommend the plans be adopted so long as it fits in the city’s charter. It also allows Gem Equities to resubmit their plans without having to reapply.
  • December 2018: Gem Equities goes back to court, alleging the city is in contempt of the court’s previous order, saying the city failed to adhere to the order. They said the city should have used a non-statutory approach to the plan, instead of a by-law approach.
  • August 2019: The court finds the city in contempt for failing to process the applicants’ plan as a non-statutory (policy) plan, but did not find the city in contempt on other grounds raised by the developer. The court tells the city’s property and development committee to hold a meeting considering the secondary plan and rezoning application. The city appeals.
  • March 2020: The court does not reconsider the finding of contempt but also does not impose a penalty on the city. The court orders that the secondary plan and rezoning application be referred directly to the standing policy committee on property and development for consideration, and that the secondary be considered as policy, but not as a by-law.
  • May 2020: The city’s property and development committee holds the meeting asked for in August and once again rejects the plan, saying there are numerous flaws. The city says it has not yet exhausted all of its avenues of appeal in court.

— With files from Elisha Dacey and Richard Cloutier

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