City not done with development in legal limbo

Environmental advisory committee rejected project, citing wetland protection

Published on February 22, 2014
This parcel of land is being disputed in court between Powder House Hill Investments and the Anglican Church’s Diocesan Synod of Eastern Newfoundland.
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

The developer who recently filed a $9-million lawsuit against a diocese of the Anglican Church over lost business opportunities may have over-estimated the likelihood there’s money to be made from land at the centre of the dispute.

Powder House Hill Investments Ltd. filed a statement of claim earlier this month at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

It’s arguing an agreement of purchase and sale was in place with the Anglican Church’s Diocesan Synod of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador for 16.5 acres of undeveloped land located east of Portugal Cove Road behind Penney Crescent and Halley Drive in St. John’s. The church claims no such agreement is in place.

In the statement of claim, the company says it was informed in the summer of 2013 that the Department of Environment and Conservation would provide a permit for residential development on the land. Powder House worked with various levels of government and sought the expertise of professionals after it paid the Diocesan Synod a $10,000 deposit in 2008 to be applied to the purchase price.

According to the company, that permit would satisfy the first two conditions of an agreement reached in April 2008, one of which pertained to the purchaser (Powder House) successfully rezoning the land for residential development.

However, that land has not been rezoned. According to Coun. Danny Breen, several things would need to happen for that to be so.

“First of all, before it goes anywhere now, it has to come back to the planning committee,” said Breen, who represents Ward 1, an area that includes the undeveloped property.

At that stage, it could be either recommended for rejection or approval. If council approved the application, the rezoning would still need to go through a public consultation process and a public hearing chaired by an independent commissioner before coming back to council.

“This is an application where it’s so early in the process,” said Breen. “It’s in the preliminary review stage.”

Committee rejected proposal

Powder House first made an application to rezone the land for residential development in 2009. In July of that year, the planning committee asked the company to prepare an environmental assessment report. That report would consider whether the property was still a wetland area and assess the development’s impact on wildlife and vegetation and downstream storm sewers and river systems. The land borders the Virginia River.

On Feb. 5, 2013, the developer met with the city’s environmental advisory committee. A presentation based on a report prepared by consulting firm Stantec on the status of the Synod wetland was made during the meeting.

Two current and former committee members confirmed to The Telegram that the committee recommended rejecting the application given the property is a significant wetland that serves as a natural habitat for animal and plant life.

The wetland is reportedly a habitat for teaberry. According to a Department of Environment and Conservation document, there are only four known locations for teaberry in Newfoundland.

The committee also noted that taking into account past development-fuelled encroachment on such wetlands, conserving those that remain is all the more necessary.

According to minutes from a March 19, 2013 council meeting, Powder House subsequently requested that the application for rezoning be deferred so it could review the environmental advisory committee’s report.

“They haven’t come back from that,” said Breen.

William (Bill) Leger Clarke, who owns Powder House Hill Investments, is currently facing 38 counts of fraud over $1,000 and a charge of conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. Those charges relate to his business dealings as a co-owner of Myles-Leger, a construction company that declared bankruptcy in 2004. That matter is scheduled to return to St. John’s provincial court April 7.

The Telegram attempted to contact Clarke, but he could not be reached for comment.

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