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Toronto Star: Tempest rages around former Davisville lawn bowling club
Toronto Star: Tempest rages around former Davisville lawn bowling club
December 30, 2014 Toronto Star Katrina Clarke
Genteel green space coveted by the city was sold off before the city made an offer, former leaders say, but Councillor Josh Matlow smells something “fishy.
The future of a 91-year-old Davisville lawn bowling club is at the centre of an eleventh-hour negotiation between the developer it was recently sold to and the City of Toronto, which is determined to buy it.
The Glebe Manor Lawn Bowling Club Ltd. closed in November 2013 after a long decline in membership. The shareholders voted to liquidate the club, located in an expensive part of the city with minimal green space, and give the money to the Hospital for Sick Children.
In May, the club’s liquidators sold the property to a developer who plans to build five townhouses on the site.
But Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow is not happy.
For over a year, Matlow has been trying to reach out to the club about transforming the property into a park, but, he claims, the club’s then board president, Phil Foubert, did not respond to his efforts.
The lawyer for the club’s liquidators, Jayson Schwarz, says the city didn’t make an offer for the property until it was too late.
“My client has told me that they were not contacted by the city until long after the deal was signed,” said Schwarz, who represents Foubert, now a liquidator. “(The city) just ignored the fact that it had sold.”
The Star was unable to reach Foubert and Schwarz said his client did not want to talk.
The property sold in May for $2.85 million to developer Michael Volpentesta, Schwarz said. The sale has not yet closed and closure is conditional upon the city’s approval of an application for subdivision, he said.
Volpentesta did not respond to detailed questions from the Star.
An employee with The Mortgage Providers, the business of which Volpentesta is president — responded via email on Volpentesta’s behalf, saying they had “no comment” to the Star’s questions.
Now, the city is in talks with Volpentesta. In mid-December, it offered to buy the property for $4 million, according to Schwarz.
Matlow would not confirm the figure but did say the city is offering more than $2.85 million for the property — an offer considered to be fair market value, he said. The money would come from the city’s parks acquisition fund — used to purchase parks in areas deemed deficient in green space.
Matlow’s policy adviser, Andrew Athanasiu, said he had a conversation with developer Volpentesta in June and was left with “the impression” he wanted $5 million. He said he couldn’t remember who contacted whom.
Despite the talks, Matlow’s office is still frustrated the club’s liquidators did not sell to the city.
Matlow says his office made attempts to reach out to the club before they knew it would be for sale — back in late 2013 — and didn’t know it had sold until after May.
“There’s no way that we could have had a crystal ball, knowing when (Foubert) was going to go directly to a developer to try to sell the property,” said Matlow. “The city has made it very clear that it has an interest in creating a park in this site.”
Notes from the club’s annual general meeting in November 2013 state the club had a “lack of confidence that the City would maintain the land as a park.” The notes state the club considered donating the land to the city but was concerned the city would not accept the property without restriction and “would be free to do whatever with the land.”
Matlow insists the city only has the intention of turning it into a park.
He said the first he heard that the land would be sold to a developer was in May, when a former board member contacted him.
On May 21, Athanasiu contacted liquidator and former club president Phil Foubert directly by phone. Foubert told him “the sale has not gone through,” Athanasiu said.
In June, city council passed Matlow’s motion directing staff to purchase the lawn bowling property. In August, council approved buying it.
Athanasiu added that the city acted as “swiftly and expeditiously” as possible to take on the property and said it can take a long time to go through the motions of acquiring the property.
But the city was too late, according to Schwarz.
After the club liquidated in November 2013, Schwarz said, he began seeking prospective buyers. His office received between eight and 10 “legitimate offers,” he said.
Schwarz said the three liquidators — former board members Phil Foubert, his wife Debra Foubert and Elizabeth McFarlane — whittled down the offers to the best three. After rejecting anything below $2.5 million, they asked developers to give a presentation to the five-member board — including themselves and two others, Schwarz said.
The board selected Volpentesta, who planned to build five houses on the property. His offer, nearly $2.8 million, was bumped up to $2.85 million after an independent appraiser valuated the property at that price, Schwarz said. The top offer was $2.85 million, he said.
The offer was signed May 12, Schwarz said.
The controversy came to a head in mid-December when Matlow became concerned that residents and media, including the Star, had been banned from attending a meeting for the former club’s shareholders at Leaside Memorial Community Gardens.
The doors were manned by four private security guards.
“People who have nothing to hide don’t hire two layers of security to guard a room of mostly seniors discussing a lawn bowling club. It’s absurd,” Matlow said, upon being barred entry.
When Schwarz exited the meeting — which he called a routine session for shareholders when a property has not sold — Matlow confronted him.
The two raised their voices, traded terse accusations and dramatically pointed fingers as an argument played out between automatic sliding doors — kept open as the two argued — at the busy recreation centre’s entrance.
“So (Volpentesta) is going to come and now try to flip it?” Matlow asked Schwarz.
“He’s going to sell it for what he’s invested and what the current value is. It’s gone up, Josh,” Schwarz said, adding that the former shareholders wanted a restrictive covenant if the developer sold to the city, stipulating that the city would keep the property a green space in perpetuity.
Some shareholders filtering out of the room sounded as frustrated as Matlow.
“I just can’t sit there and listen to that BS,” said Georgina Rayner, a former club president. “Selling it to a developer was not the right thing to do.”
“I just want the money to go to SickKids hospital … I don’t care who you sell it to,” a woman said loudly.
With nearly 900 club shareholders, giving the money to SickKids avoided the necessity of splitting the money.
Matlow’s office is not done fighting.
“It’s time to shine a bright light on what’s going on here,” he said. “The city is very interested in protecting this green space.”
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