N.E. road at mercy of thorn to city

Failed may­oral hope­ful Fech holds key land

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - JA­SON MARKUSOFF

When the city opens the Metis Trail ex­ten­sion t hi s fall, north­east com­muters will coast along a road that sud­denly squeezes from four lanes to two lanes, then to four again, all within a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres.

Call it the Oscar Fech bot­tle­neck.

And t hat ’ s not be­cause Fech (rhymes with neck) is the ubiq­ui­tous po­lit­i­cal gad­fly who con­stantly ex­horts that city hall “has got to get back to com­mon sense.”

It’s be­cause if city hall ever wants to make Metis Trail a fully four-lane road — or ex­pand fur­ther, as is planned — it will have to go through Fech. Or at least buy out part of his huge swath of valu­able north­east land.

Al­der­men and fel­low coun­cil-watch­ers have snick­ered at his ram­bling ar­gu­ments that liken Cal­gary plan­ning is­sues to the Ro­man Em­pire’s down­fall. May­ors have in­structed him to stay on topic and cut him off af­ter the five min­utes any­one is al­lot­ted at pub­lic hear­ings. The pub­lic has mostly laughed him off or ig­nored him dur­ing his three bids to run for mayor (207 votes last year, or sec­ond-last among 15 con­tenders).

But when it comes to his 320-acre (130 hectare) land hold­ing in the rapidly ex­pand­ing north­east, Fech mat­ters.

Mat­ters to the tune of mil­lions of dol­lars, since $300,000 or more per acre is com­mon up there.

The city won’t only have to ne­go­ti­ate or ex­pro­pri­ate the west­ern-most slice of Fech’s prop­erty for fu­ture north­bound lanes of Metis Trail. The north por­tion of un­de­vel­oped land he’s owned since the 1970s will be needed to ex­tend lanes of Air­port Trail be­yond the fu­ture tun­nel, the east slice stands in the way of an ex­ten­sion of 60th Street N.E., and the north­east cor­ner of the half-sec­tion he owns is pro­posed for a fu­ture LRT sta­tion’s park-and-ride lot.

They’re go­ing to have to take on Oscar

ALD. JIM STEVEN­SON

“No­body’s look­ing for­ward to it. But they’re go­ing to have to take on Oscar,” Ald. Jim Steven­son said ear­lier this year.

A city spokesman con­firmed Fri­day that of­fi­cials opened land-ac­qui­si­tion talks with Fech last year, but later dis­con­tin­ued them.

Back in 2009, coun­cil voted for a $52-mil­lion Metis Trail ex­ten­sion with only two traf­fic lanes be­tween 80th Av­enue and 96th Street, ef­fec­tively skirt­ing the need to ac­quire Fech prop­erty. The bud­get only al­lowed for con­struc­tion and land pur­chases for half the “in­terim” phase of Metis, a city trans­porta­tion spokes­woman said.

Ac­cord­ing to Steven­son, the road will open some­time around Novem­ber. It was sup­posed be ready in time to off­set last spring’s Bar­low Trail shut­down on air­port land but wasn’t ready in time, and this sum­mer’s rain has fur­ther de­layed its com­ple­tion.

Steven­son and the trans­porta­tion de­part­ment pre­dict that won’t be much of a choke point.

Metis Trail will be plenty wide for the amount of traf­fic it gets at the start, espe­cially with 36th and 68th Streets re­cently up­graded to han­dle more north-south mo­torists.

Wal­ter Deneiko, who lives on a four-acre par­cel just south of Fech’s va­cant par­cel, said he’s never been con­tacted by the city’s cor­po­rate prop­erty staff.

When he phoned them ear­lier this year, they in­di­cated they wouldn’t need his land to widen Metis for an­other two or three years, ap­par­ently con­tent to keep the road’s four-two-four for­ma­tion for a while.

The city had al­ready bought or ex­pro­pri­ated land from two own­ers far­ther south along the fu­ture Metis lands, frus­trat­ing Deneiko, a 70-year-old who wants to re­tire away from his city acreage.

“I wish they’d just take what they need now, so I can sell the

They’re build­ing Metis Trail and they didn’t even buy my land to put through Metis Trail . . . I’m just say­ing — it’s the sys­tem

OSCAR FECH

whole thing,” said Deneiko, whose for-sale sign on his lot’s cor­ner has drawn warn­ings that the city’s un­clear plans make it a hard sell.

He sus­pects his neigh­bour’s no­to­ri­ety has put the city in no great rush.

Fech seizes any chance he can to weigh in at pro­vin­cial, civic or non-po­lit­i­cal pub­lic fo­rums, of­ten spout­ing con­spir­acy theories about the five families who run the world, or about the bil­lions of dol­lars hid­den be­neath city hall.

But he de­clined to com­ment when the Her­ald asked him about his own prop­erty af­fairs.

He has, how­ever, snuck in a few ref­er­ences to the com­ing city scuf­fle.

“Like, I have my prob­lems in the north­east also,” Fech told a coun­cil com­mit­tee last month, com­ment­ing on a city­wide de­ci­sion. “They’re build­ing Metis Trail and they didn’t even buy my land to put through Metis Trail. No, I’m just men­tion­ing it. I’m just say­ing — it’s the sys­tem!”

In Fe­bru­ary, he opined on a north­east land con­cern: “I’ve got some land not too far away from this piece — I’m just say­ing! — and the city pays one de­part­ment, an­other de­part­ment, $300,000 — they don’t want to pay me that!”

Steven­son told the Her­ald last week that Fech has re­cently been ap­proach­ing him and se­nior city ex­ec­u­tives about his will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate.

One won­ders if in pri­vate ne­go­ti­a­tions he’ll vol­ley the sort of di­a­tribe he of­fered Fri­day at a fo­rum on hu­man traf­fick­ing:

“You must an­a­lyze your­self and the world it­self,” he said. “His­tory al­ways re­peats it­self. Like it says here (Fech picks up the pro­gram), hu­man traf­fick­ing is mod­ern-day slav­ery. Slav­ery has been go­ing on for thou­sands of years! But we live in a world of glob­al­iza­tion . . .”

The mod­er­a­tor cut him off twice. Once suc­cess­fully.

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