Bubbling under the surface of one of the prettiest blocks in Alberta Avenue is growing anger and frustration among neighbours forced to live near an infill development gone horribly wrong.
After five years of reporting concerns about the unfinished duplex at 11535 95A Street, Donna Paliwoda said the experience is a perfect illustration of why people in central mature neighbourhoods are averse to this kind of development.
“It’s got nothing to do with opposing density,” Paliwoda said. “We have a beautiful street with beautiful homes and beautiful yards that we take pride in. That property is negatively impacting everybody forced to live around it.”
Public records indicate a land transfer took place in 2013, the same year that a development permit was granted. The old house was demolished in the spring of 2014 and the new basement was dug in May of that year. Construction of the house proceeded through that winter and then stopped.
Paliwoda said the project was a problem from the beginning. After the previous home was demolished, the neighbours had to contend with a large open pit that extended right to the sidewalk with no fence around it for over four months.
“We had a block party that June and the neighbours were scrambling to put fence around the property to ensure that children didn’t fall into the pit,” Paliwoda recalled.
After numerous complaints from neighbours, the developer finally installed a fence that August. The fence, however, was installed so that it partially blocked the sidewalk and it took almost four more years of complaints to have it moved.
The project was mentioned in a feature about infill in this paper in December 2014. A neighbour complained that construction caused the destruction of a portion of their fence. The developer, Gaurav Singhmar, expressed understanding about the neighbours’ concerns. “I don’t want to alienate my neighbours,” he said in an interview, and promised to have the fence rebuilt at his expense the following spring. That never happened.
According to neighbours, the list of complaints reported to the city is long and includes grass and weeds as tall as four feet; a scummy pond of water in front; the fence sitting on the sidewalk; no house number visible on the property; and snow not being cleared off the sidewalk. Folks up and down the block have taken to calling the project the “Pit of Doom.”
Neighbours worry that someone could break into the structure and start a fire, putting adjacent properties at risk. They’re also curious why the project, originally granted a permit to construct a duplex, has three power supplies going into the property.
The city established an infill policing team in 2016 to address the numerous complaints being raised throughout the city. Darren Anderson, a peace officer who has worked with that team, confirmed that he has been out to the property twice and has issued one fine. He explained there is an open file and that a development compliance officer is looking into it, but was unable to provide the nature of the file or the name of the officer due to privacy regulations.
While development rules require that front and side yards visible from a public street be landscaped by property owners within 18 months of occupancy, there is nothing protecting neighbours from eyesores created by incomplete or unoccupied properties and, as long as a developer has a valid development permit, there’s nothing residents can do.
“A developer with a permit can basically do whatever they want,” he told me. “They can come by once a month and move a wheelbarrow or they can not come by at all.”
Paliwoda provided me with copies of emails that show Ward 7 Coun. Tony Caterina has been contacted about the situation dozens of times over the past few years. Aside from numerous promises from his assistant Rocco Caterina to follow up on the matter, Paliwoda said neighbours have received little support from city hall.
“They don’t respond to me at all,” she said, “and in their last response, to another neighbour who wrote in to complain, they blamed the provincial government. It is just so much bulls&*t. Do people in Glenora or Riverbend have to put up with this kind of bulls&*t? I doubt it.”
Calls to Caterina’s office requesting comment for this story were not returned by deadline.
The developer, Singhmar Developments Inc. (headed by Gaurav’s father Prem) has a long history of positive press. Prem was inducted to the Alberta Business Hall of Fame in 2017 and has been lauded for his philanthropy, with the Singhmar family donating as much as $7 million to organizations such as NorQuest College, the Art Gallery of Alberta, the University of Alberta, and the Citadel Theatre. They also found themselves with some negative press last month when their downtown hotel was stripped of its Hyatt brand. The hotel had a pigeon infestation and Alberta Health Services involvement, but the Hyatt chain didn’t confirm the reason for the split. Singhmar Developments also did not return our calls requesting comment.
Paliwoda and her neighbours have had enough. “It’s been five years of nothing but our complaints being ignored,” she said.
“The stupidity around all of this is rampant. If you want to know why people in mature neighbourhoods hate infill developers, you need look no further than right here.”
Featured Image: A neighbour stands in the alley looking at the unfinished house at 11535 95A Street. | Rebecca Lippiatt
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