N.E. road at mercy of thorn to city
Failed mayoral hopeful Fech holds key land
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
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.