Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger says a ruling Wednesday by a provincial appeals tribunal is good news for the Kingsway Entertainment District.
“We're seeing some progress,” Bigger said Wednesday. “As I've said all along, we need to follow the process. We'll know more on Aug. 8 at the case management conference, but all the indications as of today are looking positive for the Kingsway Entertainment District.”
Bigger was referring to a decision released Wednesday by the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (LPAT) that rejected six of the 28 issues opponents of the KED have put forward in their legal arguments in trying to stop the project. The issues include whether the city had to hold a referendum before approving a casino, and questions about the process the city used in 2012 to declare it supported a new gaming facility.
The tribunal also rejected an argument that the LPAT should rule whether the city was biased – fettered, in legal language – when it approved the decision, suggesting Superior Court would be the appropriate venue to hear that issue. The tribunal also set an Aug. 8 date for the next case management conference to deal with the remaining issues.
Sudbury businessman Tom Fortin is leading the fight to stop the casino and is taking part in all four appeals of the decision. Fortin said Wednesday he's not surprised by the decision, and is relieved that the 22 remaining issues will be part of the next case management conference.
“We're still very confident because 22 of the 28 issues are still in play and they're the ones that matter,” Fortin said. “The bottom line is that we are neither surprised nor disappointed in the decision ... Honestly I just want to get to (the case management conference).
Further bolstering their case, he said, are impending changes to Ontario's planning rules by the Progressive Conservative government that would restore much of the former Ontario Municipal Board process. That would allow many of the issues dismissed Wednesday to make an appearance again and would allow for a fuller – and longer – appeals process.
While the province could allow the KED to proceed under the current rules, Fortin said he's confident the province will choose to let the case proceed under the new Bill 108.
And the issue of bias will likely go to Superior Court, he said, as both the LPAT and city lawyers have said is the appropriate venue for a decision.
“The city's own solicitor, if you look at the response to our synopsis, he clearly states that in there,” Fortin said. “They say this should be heard in Superior Court of Justice, so that's what we did.”
Developer Dario Zulich, meanwhile, hailed the ruling as a welcome sign of progress for a project already delayed too long. Zulich owns the parcel of land on the Kingsway where the KED is to be built. Property for the new Sudbury Arena on the site has been transferred to the city's ownership for a nominal fee.
While his lawyers were still examining the decision, he said it appears to be a victory for his side.
“We want to move forward as expeditiously as possible with the KED and so we'll follow the process,” Zulich said. “And what I'm hearing from my legal team, they told me very categorically (the ruling) favours our side significantly.
“So I'm excited like everyone else that the project seems to be starting to move forward, and I'm excited for Greater Sudbury and for all the people who want this project done.”
With Gateway Casinos facing the expiration of their lease in Chelmsford next spring, and Fortin's plans to take the matter to Superior Court, Zulich said he's focusing on what he can control and will keep fighting until the KED is built.
“People have a right to do that in this country,” he said, of the possibility of having to fight in Superior Court. “We're just going to continue providing information that the tribunal wants. We're going to do whatever it takes to just hold the course, follow the process and make sure we get the KED off the ground as soon as possible.”
In an email Wednesday, Gateway said it would have no comment on the LPAT ruling, or on the time pressure it is facing with its lease. Fortin said the expiring lease does give his side some leverage, but he's making no assumptions.
“I'm not counting on that because, you know, who knows what they can do to alleviate that (problem),” he said. “What I really want to is to get these questions answered in court and prevent this (project) from happening.”