Parker lands development passes Winnipeg city council hurdle after years of wrangling

Andrew Marquess called his presentation to Winnipeg city council on Thursday a step in “a long journey,” and he wasn’t kidding.

More than a decade after he acquired the land in a controversial swap with the city, Marquess’s proposed Parker lands development finally got approval from council on Thursday.

The development project he plans for the southwest Winnipeg parcel of land has been bouncing through city hall — on both the bureaucratic and political sides — since he acquired the property from the city in a land swap in 2009.

“The public service was working with us [at first], but took a dramatic shift in 2016,” Marquess told city councillors in a submission before the vote. “I’m not exactly sure why.”

City council approved some amending motions brought forward by Mayor Brian Bowman that cleared the path for a compromise that will likely see the development move ahead.

Council voted 13-3 for amendments to allow the subdivision to be zoned properly for the development, and 14-2 for a secondary plan.

Those changes address issues the city has raised previously, like a lack of sidewalks on every street and mitigation of the effects of the adjacent rail lines.

The development, called Fulton Grove, will be built on 19 hectares along the city’s southwest rapid transit line to the University of Manitoba. 

In a major concession that defied the advice of city planners, the motion allows Marquess to build 1,980 housing units on the land — about 300 more than recommended by the public service.

In a written statement following the vote, Marquess praised council for the decision, saying he knew once the project was described in full, it would get their support.

He also pledged to have machinery on the site in less than a year.

“Today, Winnipeggers can be proud of our elected officials commitment to making our city stronger. We are going to hit the ground running and hope to be in the ground early fall of 2021 at the latest,” said the statement.

Bowman had consistently voted against the project to this point.

At council Thursday, the mayor acknowledged the project has been “challenging,” but said the amendments he proposed allowed for a “clean-up” that would pave the way for it to go ahead.

Developer Andrew Marquess, left, with his lawyer, Dave Hill, in a 2019 photo. The city still faces a $30-million lawsuit over how its planning department managed the Parker lands project. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

Those challenges have included legal disputes with the city over the project, including a lawsuit Marquess has launched against the city, alleging abuse of power during the process. He’s seeking at least $30 million in damages for lost revenue due to delays with the development.

The project was only in front of city council because a Court of Queen’s Bench judge ordered the city last year to rehear the applications for a secondary plan and zoning to allow the development.

Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) was one of two councillors who voted against the plan.

Orlikow was the chair of the city’s property and planning committee through much of the early struggle between Marquess and the city, and faced legal challenges from Marquess and his team.

“My oh my, finally here.… It’s damaged our souls a bit,” Orlikow told his colleagues on council on Thursday.

Calling the journey the project has taken through city hall “grueling,” Orlikow said the Parker lands plan, even with the amendments, didn’t meet all the criteria he thought necessary.

He decried a lack of park space, the development’s connection to nearby streets and amenities, and other issues.

“I think the developer is trying to get the most development breaks he can. I don’t blame him. That’s what they do,” Orlikow said.

“Check under the hood,” he urged councillors.

The twisting and turning path the development took through city hall was the subject of withering criticism by Waverley West Coun. Janice Lukes, who voted for it, but slammed a process that allowed the plan to linger for so long without approval.

“It’s a crazy way of doing business, where you are sitting in council and you get eight pages, nine pages changing information that you are supposed to vote on for a … half billion-dollar development,” she said. “It’s all a game.”

The development may have reached a milestone in getting approval from council, but in addition to Marquess’s lawsuit, the city faces a fight over the 2015 expropriation of approximately eight hectares of land it had swapped to Marquess in 2009, in order to build a massive retention pond.

A decision on what the city owes the developer for the property is still in front of the province of Manitoba’s Land Value Appraisal Commission.

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