City wins Boarded-up house case

Blight caused by bridge firm, judge says

By Dalson Chen, The Windsor Star

City hall has emerged victorious in its long-running legal battle over boarded-up houses on Windsor’s west side – and the mayor says the ruling shows that those behind the Ambassador Bridge are responsible for the blight-ridden state of neighbourhoods like Indian Road.

“The decision speaks volumes,” said Mayor Eddie Francis, taking to task bridge owner Matty Moroun’s Canadian Transit Company.

“It was the CTC that bought these homes, that owns these homes. It was the CTC that decided to board up these homes. And it was the CTC that allowed that blight to take place.”

In a decision sent out Tuesday, the Superior Court of Justice ruled in favour of the City of Windsor, dismissing the claims of the CTC and a group of property owners led by Coun. Hilary Payne.

The CTC and Payne’s group had alleged that the city’s bylaws preventing west end demolition were put into place illegitimately and in bad faith – that they were meant to thwart Moroun’s efforts to twin the Ambassador Bridge.

But Superior Court Justice Richard Gates disagreed.

“In sum, it is my conclusion that the city and the processes it employed could hardly be considered to be conspiratorial, non-transparent and lacking in candour,” Gates wrote in his decision.

Throughout the document, Gates criticized the CTC, at one point describing the company’s “true purpose” as “to maintain the control of the busiest crossing in North America in private lands and to reap the profits from this business enterprise.”

Regarding the boarded-up houses – about 112 in the areas of Indian Road, Mill Street, Edison and Bloomfield Road – Gates wrote: “It is to be remembered that there was neither blight nor abandoned houses until CTC started to buy them in 2004, many years before the city commenced its community and heritage studies which led to the bylaws being passed.

“The blight was caused by the 112 or so houses being boarded up by CTC,” Gates stated.

Gates went on to describe the CTC’s legal application as “unnecessary and arguably, an abuse of process.”

Gates concluded by stating that the City of Windsor, the mayor and every councillor named in the suit “shall have their costs” – opening the possibility of awarding of legal fees.

Francis said those fees amount to “well over $2 million.

“You’ve got lawyers for the city, and you’ve got lawyers for the councillors and myself,” Francis said.

CTC president Dan Stamper did not respond to a request for comment.

Payne also declined to comment, deferring to his legal counsel – who couldn’t be reached.

The CTC and Payne’s citizen group have the option of appealing the decision within 30 days.

Coun. Ron Jones, whose ward includes the blighted neighbourhoods, said he’s relieved by the court’s decision.

“I’m very, very pleased,” Jones said. “I can only say that I knew, right from Day 1, that we as a council did nothing untoward. There were never any secret meetings, there were never any kind of secret agreements.”

Jones called on the CTC to now act as “good neighbours” and take the necessary steps toward improving the properties they own in west Windsor.

“We’ve always judged every case on an individual basis,” Jones said.

“Hopefully, now we can move on with the plans that we have for the west side – our community improvement plan, our heritage plan – and make Olde Sandwich Towne the jewel it was meant to be.”

Francis also said he hopes the ruling compels the CTC to “do right by this community.”

But the mayor stopped short of calling the ruling a vindication.

“I don’t think anybody can feel vindicated, because – at the end of the day – we still have residents who are dealing with deplorable conditions,” Francis said. “They have to wake up and go to bed every night … staring at the blight that’s been caused by the CTC.”