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Arbutus appeals decision on Saskatoon apartment

The downtown grocery store remains on hold as the local council decides whether to overturn the council’s decision to block work on the Rosewood condominium.

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A city council will decide whether a developer can proceed with an apartment building in Saskatoon after the city council previously voted not to budge on the terms of a freeze on the project.

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“In a way, I feel like we’ve been heard for the first time,” Murray Totland, director of planning for Arbutus Properties, said after a meeting of the city’s building grievance committee on Thursday. Totland added that the questions asked by members of the quasi-judicial panel gave him the feeling that they were “debating” on the issues raised by both sides.

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Arbutus and the city have been embroiled in a dispute over a property that the city has placed on a Rosewood lot where Arbutus wants to build an affordable rental complex.

The hold requires Arbutus to complete $7 million in channel improvements before it can proceed with work on the building. Arbutus has requested that the foundation of the new building be poured, although about $1.5 million in canal work remains to be completed. The council previously voted 9-1 against allowing it, siding with city officials who warned against setting a precedent that could weaken the city’s ability to make developers pay for service projects.

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“We don’t think our request was unreasonable, we think there are solutions,” Totland said. The Company has offered to accept a permit limiting it to foundations only pending completion of the canal. Totland said the company reached out to the city again ahead of Thursday’s appeal hearing to seek “a way forward,” but to no avail.

“To be honest, the city’s seeming reluctance to entertain this is a bit disconcerting,” Totland said.

Arbutus has also questioned the need for improved sewerage around his Rosewood project. The company previously claimed its own engineers had determined that existing pipes could handle the additional flow if required and that this should be taken into account when assessing the risk for the foundation permit.

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City officials have countered this by warning Arbutus’ engineers that they could be charged with unauthorized access to city infrastructure, noting that Arbutus owes the city of Saskatoon approximately $2.5 million in fees and charges.

Totland said Thursday that Arbutus has occasionally defaulted on payments, but he said the company has always paid what it owes, plus any interest required.

“I don’t think we’re the first or only developer this has ever happened to,” he added.

Arbutus claims that the delay in formation puts the 244-unit project in Rosewood at risk and that this uncertainty is making it difficult to fund other projects, including a long-sought grocery store in downtown Saskatoon.

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“Like it or not, all of our projects are interconnected,” Totland said. Completion of the pitchfork market proposed for Midtown Plaza remains on hold pending the results of the appeal.

Jodi Manastyrski, a senior attorney for the city of Saskatoon, said Arbutus had known for years what it took to void possession of his property.

“The developer’s expectations were very clear from the start of the talks and that was that there was insufficient sewer capacity,” she wrote in a statement to Postmedia.

“It’s the city’s job to make sure these services are in place, and that hasn’t changed since 2014 and 2015. The city has maintained that position throughout: the developer knew exactly what their commitments were and we’re just trying to make sure those commitments are met,” she added.

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The City Complaints Committee has 30 days to make its decision. After that, Arbutus, the city government, the council, or any other resident can call the Saskatchewan Municipal Board, which is run by the provincial government.

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