Supreme Court hearing to decide Indian Road, Sandwich Towne’s fate
DAVE BATTAGELLO, WINDSOR STAR
More from Dave Battagello, Windsor Star
Published on: April 20, 2016 | Last Updated: April 20, 2016 10:51 PM EDT
At the Crossroads
Is Windsor’s historic Sandwich neighbourhood poised for a revival or
will the proposed expansion of the Ambassador Bridge be a hurdle too
high to overcome? In this series leading up to a Supreme Court of
Canada hearing, the Star takes the pulse of new investors, long-time
residents, politicians and bridge officials.
Which way the pendulum swings on the future of Windsor’s historic Olde
Sandwich Towne could depend in large part on the bridge border
crossing that dominates its skyline.
The Ambassador Bridge Company owns several blocks of deteriorating
houses in the west-side neighbourhood in what was once a quaint,
family-oriented residential area known as the Indian Road district.
The bridge company plans to use the land to expand. It wants to
demolish 114 empty, boarded-up houses that were once homes to families
and university students.
The City of Windsor, which opposes the expansion, wants the
neighbourhood preserved. It has prohibited demolition in the area and
has tried to use its property standards bylaw to force the bridge
company to fix up the houses.
The decade-long battle arrives before the Supreme Court of Canada on
Thursday. The critical question the country’s highest court is being
asked to decide: is the bridge company a federal entity exempt from
If the court decides the privately-owned bridge company is a federal
entity it would be “unique,” said Anneke Smit, a University of Windsor
It would tie the city’s hands when it comes to land use decisions,
creating an official plan and enacting zoning bylaws in a community
that is already vulnerable, she said.
“There are signs of rejuvenation (in Sandwich) and the city could do a
lot of creative things to encourage investment, but with the
population loss and all that blight you might be fighting a losing
battle. It will be a challenge if you can’t enforce maintenance of the
homes (owned by the bridge),” said Smit.
“This is extremely important,” said longtime bridge watchdog and
Sandwich bake shop owner Mary Ann Cuderman. “I can’t emphasize that
enough. The city has to win this battle in order to control what is
going on in the west end.
“If they lose, it will give (the bridge company) free rein to keep on
destroying the neighbourhood and will leave us no chance to stabilize
anything at all.”
The Ambassador Bridge Company, controlled by Detroit billionaire Matty
Moroun, quietly started buying dozen of homes on Indian Road and other
nearby streets in the 1990s so it could eventually add a second span
and expand its plaza.
For years, the real estate transactions drew little attention. That
changed when Moroun started boarding up the homes and letting them
rot, one by one.
By then, he had acquired over 100 properties and the city had a crisis
on its hands as the neighbourhood near the bridge and University of
Windsor became an eyesore.
“The bridge company bought homes there for a decade and had the option
of renting those homes out to keep the neighbourhood vibrant until
getting permission for a new bridge,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens.
“They chose not to do that and hollowed out a neighbourhood.”
Concerned about how much more land the bridge company would take over
in historic Sandwich, the city refused to allow the demolition of the
homes and other buildings in the neighbourhood. The bridge company
also owns several apartment buildings and recently acquired what was
once the community’s only high school, former Forster Secondary
As it battled with the city in court over whether it was immune from
city bylaws, the homes on Indian Road deteriorated. Walls rotted,
foundations cracked and porches collapsed. With the march of time,
could any be saved?
“If the city wins at least there is a chance something can be done,”
Cuderman said. “If not, there is no chance.”
She said it’s not a twin span that will hurt the Sandwich community,
but the large truck plaza that will come with it. Should the expansion
plan be approved, there will have to be a secondary truck inspection
area at the foot of the bridge on the west end.
The new truck plaza would force the closure of Huron Church Road under
the bridge and extend west over several current residential streets,
including Indian Road and Rosedale Avenue, possibly as far as Felix
Avenue. It would include several acres of former university
residential dorm properties off Mill Street and portions of the former
Forster athletic field.
“That is what will kill us,” Cuderman said. “It will mean the
destruction of the community in terms of families.”
In a separate legal battle, a handful of the remaining Indian Road
neighbours and property owners have sued the bridge company.
“We say (the bridge company) had a common law duty to keep up their
property,” said lawyer Sharon Strosberg, who is representing the
residents. “There was no disrepair and the houses were in fine
condition on Indian Road when they were purchased (by the bridge).
“The question is: were they obligated to keep them up or just let them
fall into disrepair with vermin, growth and fires?
“You might hear that they have special status, but everyone has a duty
to be a good neighbour and not interfere with other neighbours’
ability to enjoy their property. Instead these people have been forced
to live in a slum.”
Most of the buildings were beyond repair and destined for removal when
the Ambassador Bridge purchased them, company president Dan Stamper
said in a statement.
The bridge company’s efforts “to maintain, secure and expand its
facilities” are based on recommendations from consultants who carried
out studies over many years — some done by the city and others in
which it participated, he noted.
“All the properties were purchased for bridge use: maintenance of the
existing bridge, security of the border crossing and expansion of the
site for a new span,” he said.
He accused the city of using delay tactics and forcing a showdown
before the top court.
MP Brian Masse (NDP — Windsor West), who represents the neighbourhood,
said he believes the homes can be restored if the Supreme Court rules
in the city’s favour. If not, the consequences for Sandwich could be
“It would allow block-busting and would be approval of far-reaching
consequences beyond this border project,” he said.
Everything remains in limbo until the Supreme Court gives its ruling.
That will come sometime after Thursday’s hearing during which the
city, bridge company and interveners state their cases.
“It’s the end of the line,” said city lawyer Wira Vendrasco. “They are
the final appeal court in Canada.”
Dilkens said the ruling will dictate the fate of much of the city’s west end.
“At least the highest court in the land will bring some finality,” he
said. “We are putting our faith in the federal process.”