Shock, fury over expropriation plan
Proposed extension of Sterling Lyon Parkway outrages south Charleswood residents
A consulting firm is being blamed for alarming south Charleswood residents that their homes had been targeted for expropriation and demolition to make way for a massive extension of the Sterling Lyon Parkway.
The residents said they were caught by surprise when informed earlier this month about the proposed east-west corridor, as it was a route that had never been disclosed by the city or proposed as a possible option.
Resident David Ames said the public should be concerned about the tactics employed by city staff and the consulting firm.
"The story is not that there are expensive homes that were going to be expropriated and demolished, it’s that this was done without consulting the community and (without) oversight," said Ames, who is now president of the recently formed residents group, the South Wilkes Community Association.
"What they’ve been doing in secrecy is disgusting," he said.
City staff along with MMM/WSP Global, held stakeholder meetings and public information sessions in early 2015. Three options were presented to residents at an open house in January 2016: widening Wilkes Avenue from Shaftesbury Boulevard eastward, and two more southerly routes that involved an extension of Sterling Lyon Parkway as the east-west corridor.
The south Charleswood residents overwhelmingly endorsed the Wilkes route and then forgot about the issue.
Staff in the public works department and MMM/WSP Global went to work on the final design for the east-west corridor. Instead of finalizing details for the Wilkes option, or either of the two other options, they developed a fourth route — a southwest extension of Sterling Lyon that cuts a wide swath through several rural-like residential areas. It affects 96 homes along McCreary, Loudon and Liberty streets, Charleswood Road and a number of other streets, which would have to be partially or completely taken for the project and connected at an intersection with the extended Clement Parkway, which would be moved further south, according to this design.
Ames said residents were called to four meetings at the beginning of this month with Scott Suderman, a transportation facilities planning engineer in the public works department, and staff from MMM/WSP Global, who informed them about the new route. Ames said it was presented as the only choice. They were told it would be presented to council for approval in January or February and that construction would begin as early as 2021.
The early October meetings included staff from the city’s real estate office, Ames said, who told the residents they could agree to sell their properties to city hall or wait to have their homes expropriated.
"People were shocked and furious," Ames said. "They were going to lose their homes. This was a done deal. Suderman and MMM/WSP Global said this is their recommendation to council and they’re not looking at any other option and haven’t looked at any other option for a long time."
Ames said the value of the affected properties immediately dropped 40 to 60 per cent.
"I have a neighbour in her 80s who can’t sell her property until this has been resolved," Ames said. "We are obligated to disclose this project to any buyer. There are so many people who have been injuriously affected by this, it’s unbelievable."
While Suderman and MMM/WSP Global were talking to the residents, senior staff from public works met with councillors on the public works committee on Oct. 6 at a public meeting, but there was no disclosure that an east-west corridor had been chosen or that city staff had initiated discussions about buying residents’ property or raised the spectre of expropriation.
Ames said he immediately contacted area Coun. Marty Morantz and told him what city staff had been planning. Morantz, who is chairman of the public works committee, said he knew nothing about the proposed corridor that involved extending the Sterling Lyon Parkway.
Morantz said he, like the residents, had assumed city staff and MMM/WSP Global had been working on the proposal to widen Wilkes Avenue, adding that he isn’t surprised residents are angry.
"People get upset when they see a plan with a highway going through their house," Morantz said.
Morantz said he was told last summer by the acting director of the public works department that MMM/WSP Global had prematurely filed for an environmental review of an east-west route. He was unaware what that route was. After Ames contacted him earlier this month, Morantz said public works told him the consultants had developed the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension as the preferred route.
Morantz said the public works department had accepted MMM/WSP Global’s proposal and embraced the new corridor route as their choice and had presented it to the residents.
"I’m not happy about what’s occurred," Morantz said.
Morantz said he isn’t prepared to accept the new route and met with Ames and other residents last weekend. Morantz said he took Doug McNeil, the city’s chief administrative officer, with him to the meeting. They assured residents that only the widening of Wilkes would be considered for a future east-west corridor.
Morantz said he’ll introduce a motion at Tuesday’s meeting of the public works committee that will kill the extension of the Sterling Lyon Parkway and expropriation of the residents’ properties.
Ames said he’s been assured by McNeil and by Dave Wardrop, the city’s chief transportation and utilities officer, that the Sterling Lyon Parkway route will not proceed, and the city will only consider the widening of Wilkes Avenue.
Read more by Aldo Santin.
At the Nov. 25, 2014 meeting of the public works committee – the first public meeting following the civic election a month earlier – councillors approved a change to the terms of reference for an engineering study examining the southward extension of the William R. Clement Parkway, to include studying the effects of a new east-west corridor on Wilkes Avenue.
The committee approved a department recommendation to increase the engineering design budget to $1.8 million from $800,000, and the contract was later awarded to MMM Group, later known as WSP Global.
MMM Group was at the centre of controversy more than a year ago over its public consultations process and designs for an expansion of Marion Avenue, which proposed the expropriation of more than 100 properties along Marion, including two churches, and the creation of a massive intersection and underpass at Archibald Street.
The south St. Boniface residents claimed that MMM Group had failed to inform them about what was being considered and had excluded most residents from consultations.
MMM Group's work was harshly condemned by the former chairwoman of the public works committee, who described it as "horrible."
The public works department abandoned the project when the MMM Group's design pushed the price tag to more than $900 million from $250 million.
The then-director of public works said MMM efforts had failed to meet the department's expectation and opposed a plan to award the firm another consulting contract to develop a scaled-down version of improvements to the Marion/Archibald interchange.
— Aldo Santin