A Wednesday night meeting for shareholders of the believed-to-be-dissolved Glebe Manor Lawn Bowling Club turned into an emotionally charged night of contradictions, with few answers to satisfy questions swirling around an alleged secretive May sale of the club’s Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton area property to a developer.
At meeting time, shareholders were allowed entry but the doors to the William Lea Room at Leaside Gardens Arena — flanked by four hired security guards — were closed to proxies who had arrived armed with questions for club president Phill Foubert and legal counsel Jayson Schwarz, two figures at the centre of the highly publicized controversy.
The lawn bowling club voted at its annual general meeting in November 2013 to dissolve, pending the sale of the property, which was to be done by club-appointed liquidators. Its own executive acted as liquidator and set out to sell the property, allegedly striking a deal with developer and mortgage broker Michael Volpentesta in May this year. The process was outlined by Schwarz at the Wednesday meeting.
Organizers described that meeting as an “information session,” despite a letter sent Nov. 26 to club shareholders having billed it as a “general meeting of shareholders.” And Schwarz, who those attending said did not mention a letter containing an offer from the city — received that day from Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow — told reporters afterward Volpentesta, who he confirmed has purchased the property, is willing to sell it to the city as long as there is a promise to keep it as greenspace.
Ironically, Matlow says he has been trying since November 2013 to initiate a sale to the city so the property could remain as greenspace, but insists his overtures have been rebuffed by Foubert. As well, the months-long local opposition to a sale to Volpentesta has revolved around an understanding that he intends to build five homes on the property.
Matlow, who was acting as a proxy for an unnamed woman, said he felt the shareholder he was representing was being cheated by his being barred from attending the meeting.
“On her behalf, I can’t even go back to convey to her the information she should have been entitled to learn about,” he said. “She’s left in the dark because they’re playing politics.”
The news media, including the Town Crier, was denied access as well.
Two of the club’s past presidents, Wally and Georgina Raynor, appeared agitated as they took turns stepping outside to provide updates on the proceedings to Matlow and other proxies.
The controversy over the potential sale of the club began in late May when former board member Derek Tilley alerted the neighbouring community and contacted the news media, claiming Foubert had told him the property had been sold but was refusing to divulge details. A petition calling for a halt to the sale, because neighbours wanted the land to remain as greenspace, has attracted almost 1,400 signatures.
Contacted in June, board member Liz MacFarlane directed questions to Foubert, but did say she had “never heard” of the city having an interest in buying the land until a neighbour mentioned it to her.
According to Tilley, concern also arose in the community when it was learned Volpentesta’s company, The Mortgage Providers, had Schwarz’s law firm, Schwarz Law LLP, listed on its website under “Partners and Associations”. The website has since dropped the “Partners” reference to Schwarz’s law firm but continues to list it under “Associations”.
Matlow brought motions to council in June and August to direct city staff to look into buying the property so it could be made into a park. Foubert was aware of the city wanting to make an offer but refused to return his calls, Matlow alleges.
Foubert has responded to none of several requests for comment by the Town Crier since the situation began to make headlines in June. He did not make himself available to reporters on Wednesday night either.
Georgina Raynor, who became outgoing president when Foubert took over in 2005, has been a vocal opponent of the land being sold for development, preferring it be sold to the city to be made into a park.
“We’re devoid of greenspace in this city, especially in our neighbourhood,” she said. “And that should never become five houses.”
After the meeting, Schwarz confirmed for reporters waiting outside that the club land had sold in May, for $2.85 million to Volpentesta.
While Georgina Raynor had been seen walking out of the meeting in frustration at one point, saying “there’s a lot of unrest in there,” Schwarz contended “everyone is happy, no one is upset.”
Schwarz said some people came with concerns, but after he explained how everything was “transparent,” all left “happy and with a sense of relief.”
“Everyone understands that what’s been done has been transparent and done for the benefit of the club,” he said.
When Matlow joined the small gathering outside the William Lea Room he reminded Schwarz that the city had made an offer to buy the property that morning. In acknowledging receipt of the letter, Schwarz revealed that the city indicated it was willing to pay $4 million for the property. He said he did not consider the letter an official offer, however, because it was dependent on “several conditions” being met.
“We have a letter from the city that says we’re interested in buying and we’ll give you an agreement of purchase and sale after we finish doing our investigation,” Schwarz said. “That’s not an offer.”
Schwarz said the city can buy the property from Volpentesta if it wishes to do so, but would first have to agree “it will remain a greenspace … in perpetuity, that they will not sell it to another developer or release it as surplus.”
Matlow then interjected, asking rhetorically why the city would sell a park to a developer.
“Because they do it all the time,” Schwarz snapped back.
Matlow demanded that Schwarz provide an example of the city having done so, and after a brief exchange Schwarz apologized for the assertion and said he was “just looking out for the club,” which he said had “concerns” about the potential for future condo development.
As a result, Schwarz said, he has included a “restrictive covenant clause” in the deal, which would prevent the land from being used for condo development.
“It’s not bad, what I’m asking for,” he said. “I’m just trying to be careful.”
But Matlow later said Schwarz is just “playing with words.”
“It’s not like out of the blue there’s some deal and all of a sudden the city says they’d like a park,” Matlow said. “They made a choice — they chose the developer over even discussing this with the city.”
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