Tochal rejects Lemay Forest offer while advocates call for meeting

The owner of a forested piece of land in St. Norbert has said ‘no’ to an offer to purchase and preserve the land with public funds.

“This offer was fair, and the developer has rejected it,” said Winnipeg South MP Terry Duguid.

Tochal Development Group Inc. owns the Lemay Forest, a riverfront piece of land in St. Norbert that has been the subject of debate since Tochal indicated their intent to develop the area into a high-density neighbourhood that includes affordable housing.

“I think in our view, it should remain forest. We do need homes to be built, and built so quickly in our community, but there are lots of places where we can build homes,” Duguid said.

In January, the Manitoba Habitat Conservancy (MHC) had the property appraised. MHC, the Coalition to Save the Lemay Forest, and other stakeholders advocated for and raised $3.1 million, including funds from all three levels of government to purchase the land.

Story continues below advertisement

“An offer was made to the landowner of the forest land in March. The offer expired,” said Cat Macaulay Gauthier with the Coalition, adding the group is “disappointed.”

Macaulay Gauthier and the Coalition wrote a letter to Tochal CEO Mazyar Yahyapour, who owns the property, which she later shared on social media.

More on Politics

“There is a willing buyer with the funds and the authority to acquire the land at fair market value,” the letter said, going on to invite Yahyapour to meet with the group at any time.

The email you need for the day’s top news stories from Canada and around the world.

“We’re hoping that we can come to the table with the landowner without his representatives, and all three levels of government, and, you know, work together to find a solution,” said Macaulay Gauthier.

In a statement, John Wintrup with Tochal said: “MHHC low-ball, token offer and the neighbours’ demanding Tochal sell land at absurdly low prices for tree preservation indicates how out of touch some people are regarding their fellow Canadians increasingly common experiences of rapidly escalating land and housing prices due to a lack of housing supply,” adding the company is advancing with a development application.

“A generous offer was made by Tochal in 2023 to the residents, tree advocates and City Administration of retaining 33% of the lands as public park space – – well in excess of the lawful 10% – – and retaining 22% of the existing trees plus a re-forestation programme to re-leaf the lands and the surrounding area – this was offer flatly refused,” the statement concluded.

Story continues below advertisement

Tochal Development Group Inc. hired professional planner John Wintrup for the project. In November 2023, Wintrup said Tochal was open to transferring the land, but was planning to move forward with development in 2024 if a deal wasn’t reached quickly.

Those plans haven’t been without hiccups; Tochal’s recent attempt to demolish a house it owns to provide access to the forest was recently quashed by a city committee.

The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) also wants to see the forest saved.

“I want to speak directly to the owners and explain to them what this means to us and explain to them, ‘Look, let’s do the right thing here. Let’s work together,’” he said.

The Behavioural Health Foundation near the forest is the former home of the Asile Richot, a home for unwed mothers that opened in 1904. The area was home to a large Métis population, and records show a cemetery near the Asile.

Chartrand says there’s room to negotiate a purchase price, but if graves are found in the forest, development is not an option.

“We will do everything in our power at that time. Money doesn’t matter to us,” he said.

“I’ve already made it very clear that I will take any legal action necessary, if it’s proven that… graves to be actually in that location,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

Duguid says the $3.1 million offer still stands – but it needs to happen quickly.

“There is some funding available from federal and provincial governments that is on the table. That will not sit there forever, and so I’m hoping that we can come to a conclusion very soon for sure,” he said.

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.