Border land deals draw fire; Masse says DRIC treating property owners unfairly

IDNUMBER 200808010014
PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2008.08.01
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A3
ILLUSTRATION: Colour Photo: Tyler Brownbridge, Star photo / ARBITRATIONSOUGHT: Ed and Lynda Slingsby look over their Talbot Road property Thursday. The couple are upset about their settlement with DRIC and feel they were not properly compensated for the wedding photography business they run from their home. ; Colour Photo: Tyler Brownbridge, Star photo / 'SIMPLE JUSTICE': Ed and Lynda Slingsby speak to the media about their dispute with DRIC. ;
BYLINE: Sonja Puzic
SOURCE: Windsor Star
WORD COUNT: 696

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Border land deals draw fire; Masse says DRIC treating property owners unfairly

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MP Brian Masse (NDP -- Windsor West) called on the provincial government Thursday to review the way properties along the main feeder route to the new border crossing in Windsor are purchased by the Ministry of Transportation, saying many homeowners are being treated unfairly.

Speaking to the media at the residence of a Talbot Road couple who recently sold their sprawling property to the MTO, Masse said the current process of property acquisition along the Huron Church-Talbot Road corridor is "not transparent and accountable," alleging the province is not following guidelines and refusing to clearly define compensation packages for homeowners and businesses.

The access route to the border is a provincial responsibility, managed by the Detroit River International Crossing team, but the federal government is also funding the project.

Ed and Lynda Slingsby, who live at 1090 Talbot Rd. and operate a business there, said Thursday they were forced to sell their property for half its value because DRIC representatives refused to take into account the value of their business, Mainstreet Photography Studio, which specializes in wedding photography and uses the property's park-like, well-maintained setting as an outdoor photo studio.

"We were basically told because we work from our home that we are an illegitimate business," Ed Slingsby said. "We were assessed on the home and that's what we got."

The Slingsbys had applied under provincial legislation as a hardship case in 2006 to have their home and business bought out so that they could relocate and avoid expropriation. But by having to sell the property for about $500,000 -- half of which went to paying down debt incurred by business losses -- the couple say they may be forced to go out of business.

"We did 62 weddings a year before the (DRIC) announcement and we did six (weddings) this year," Slingsby said, blaming the decline in business on the DRIC project.

"Brides are very antsy. They are ... worried about their weddings being absolutely perfect. If they're not sure we're going to be here ... they don't tend to leave that deposit. We book a year to two years in advance on a regular basis and it's just not happening anymore."

When they realized that their counter offers would not get DRIC to budge, the Slingsbys requested arbitration but say they were denied that process. They settled for $500,000 even though they didn't like the offer because business has been steadily declining as their debt increased.

Masse said an application for arbitration is allowed under the provincial guidelines and is urging the ministry to reconsider.

He sent a letter Thursday to Transportation Minister Jim Bradley, asking him to intervene in the Slingsbys' case and send it to arbitration "in order to achieve simple justice" for the couple.

But DRIC's project manager Dave Wake said Thursday the sale of Slingsbys' property is deemed voluntary and therefore not eligible for arbitration.

"It's a willing-buyer, willing-seller process," he said. "No one is being forced to sell, so arbitration is not necessary."

Wake said privacy laws prevent him from discussing the ministry's purchase negotiations with homeowners.

He said arbitration will be available during the expropriation process to take ownership of the remaining parcels of land. Expropriation won't begin until the environmental assessment for the border route project is completed.

"We're currently in negotiations with more than 200 property owners and the vast majority of them have been going really well," Wake said. He said he didn't know how many properties the ministry has acquired to date.

Pierre Quenneville, who lives across the road from the Slingsbys, said his negotiations with MTO are going well, but didn't want to disclose any details.

"I don't feel pressured at all (to sell)," he said.

Masse said although there are "success stories" of homeowners making satisfactory deals with the MTO, many people caught in the DRIC process are "suffering."

The Slingsbys said they don't have the financial means to relocate their business and are not sure if they will continue operating after 30 years in photography.

"We're very much still trying," an emotional Lynda Slingsby said. "We have been insulted by (DRIC) representatives, told to work at a public park or out of a basement. It's been a very demeaning process."

Lynda said she hopes her experience with DRIC will serve as a warning to her neighbours.

"I don't want anyone else to have to go through this," she said.

This is not the first time the Slingsbys had to relocate because of a project in their neighbourhood. Years ago, the Slingsbys were living and working in the proposed site for a new downtown Windsor arena and ended up selling their property to the municipality.