Is there any honest in Mayor in Montreal? Vaillancourt? Applebaum? No there isn’t. Don’t trust Coderre either.
Montreal’s plan for Mafia-linked Pierrefonds land raises questions
The land in question is parallel to the Pierrefonds-Senneville border and stretches from just below Gouin Blvd. W. down to the border of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. L’Anse-à-l’Orme River and an adjacent road with the same name traverse the property at about its midway point.
The riverbanks are protected natural space, and provincial agricultural zoning prevents the land below the river from being developed. Some of the land above the river is designated as floodplain, although that doesn’t necessarily prohibit construction on it.
By the owners’ reckoning, about 10 hectares of land toward Gouin Blvd. can “absolutely” be built on, says Vicky Roy, the administrator of one of the companies that owns the land.
Roy is the current president of Placements Manchester Brighton Ltée, which she said she administers as executor of the estate of Gaétan Gosselin, the company’s sole director, who was shot dead in 2013. He was the brother-in-law and associate of Raynald Desjardins, now awaiting trial in the 2011 murder of Salvatore Montagna, the leader of a rival Mafia faction.
The land’s owners will put it up for sale in a week or two, Roy said. The section above the river might appeal to developers, she explained, while the agricultural land below it could be sold for farming. She also said the city hasn’t approached her about acquiring the property since she became the company’s administrator two years ago.
Placements Manchester Brighton purchased the land with another company, Gestion de Placements Uni-Dev Inc., in 1988. Uni-Dev acquired a 70-per-cent stake, and Placements Manchester Brighton acquired 30 per cent. In 1992, Gestion de Placements Uni-Dev transferred its 70-per-cent stake in trust to several shareholders and was designated to act as their representative.
The shareholders initially included a numbered company with directors that included Domenico Manno, uncle of now-deceased Mafia don Vito Rizzuto. Manno is one of three men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the 1978 murder of Paolo Violi, the Calabrian Mafia leader whose demise brought the Sicilian Rizzuto clan to power. Manno’s wife was listed as a shareholder in the land in 2012.
The current president and first shareholder of Gestion de Placements Uni-Dev is Joseph Sciascia, and the vice-president and third shareholder is his wife, Laura Bruno. Sciascia is the son of Gerlando (George from Canada) Sciascia, the Montreal Mafia’s representative in New York when he was shot dead by fellow mobsters in 1999.
A numbered company is second shareholder. Its president is Rosa LoPresti, widow of Giuseppe (Joe) LoPresti, who was gunned down in 1992.
Starting in 2006, the city identified Gestion de Placements Uni-Dev among 12 owners with land it wanted to acquire in the planned conservation zone.
The city contracted consultants to negotiate on its behalf with owners in the zone to buy their land.
And the consultants say the representative they met for Gestion de Placements Uni-Dev was Domenico Arcuri Jr.
Arcuri was identified in the 2006 police operation Projet Colisée as having visited Café Consenza, the Mafia’s headquarters, 45 times between 2004 and 2006, and was filmed handing money there to Nicolo Rizzuto Sr., father of Vito Rizzuto.
Arcuri and his family’s Mafia links were described in La Presse articles in 2005 and 2008 about Mafia investors who lost money with a Montreal firm after a crackdown by Quebec’s financial securities regulator.
By the consultants’ accounts, they had four meetings with Arcuri between them from 2006 to 2009, including once at a group meeting for landowners organized by the city parks department to explain the eco-territory project.
Gestion de Placements Uni-Dev’s headquarters are listed in Quebec business records as the same address as Arcuri’s Crème Glacée Ital Gelati Inc. ice cream factory in St-Léonard. Arcuri’s father, also named Domenico Arcuri, purchased the ice cream business from the Violi estate after the mobster’s 1978 assassination. Ital Gelati was firebombed in 2012.
And that’s where David Cliche, the consultant whom the city of Montreal hired to act as its “facilitator” in the negotiations with the landowners, says he had two meetings with Arcuri between 2006 and 2007.
“I didn’t know Mr. Arcuri,” said Cliche, a former Quebec environment minister in the 1990s who was working for Groupe S.M. International when he was contracted by the city parks department.
“He wanted to develop it or sell it at a price that seemed at the time higher than its fair market value.”
The Rivière à l’Orme runs through undeveloped land located in the middle of the L’Anse-à-l’Orme Nature Park in western Pierrefonds Friday, June 26, 2015.
The Rivière à l’Orme runs through undeveloped land located in the middle of the L’Anse-à-l’Orme Nature Park in western Pierrefonds Friday, June 26, 2015. Peter McCabe / Montreal Gazette
Cliche said he filed a report with the parks department explaining that he had settled with all of the owners except Arcuri.
(A parcel of land less than four hectares, tucked between a corner of the Manchester Brighton/Uni-Dev property and Gouin also appears will remain private. The owner, whose address is in Jordan, could not be reached for comment.)
“And then my mandate ended,” Cliche said, adding that the discussions with Arcuri were cordial.
“I learned subsequently in reading the newspapers that he had maybe a reputation other than for being a property owner.”
Between 2009 and 2011, the city contracted the Quebec branch of Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving wetlands for waterfowl, to contact the Pierrefonds landowners to complete the acquisition of their lands. Some of the owners made an ecological donation of land, which earned them a tax credit.
A representative of Ducks Unlimited met with Arcuri in July 2009, said its Quebec director Bernard Filion. And he said he personally met Arcuri once, at the group meeting organized by the city.
Arcuri “had very high expectations,” Filion said. Ducks Unlimited had an expert’s opinion assessing the land’s value at $800,000, he said. Arcuri wanted triple or quadruple that, Filion said.
“There wasn’t even a negotiation. He said his price, and we said no, it’s too expensive.
“It happens. There are sites we can’t acquire because the owners are too greedy.”
Manchester Brighton/Uni-Dev paid $1.89 million for the property in 1988, which would have taken into account that half of it can’t be developed because the province had declared the portion below the river as protected agricultural land in 1978.
The more land an owner can develop unfettered, the more it’s worth, Filion said.
A big factor that would influence the value of the Manchester Brighton/Uni-Dev land is how far the lines of Quebec’s floodplain map, which can either restrict or prohibit construction, are drawn on the non-agricultural portion between L’Anse-à-l’Orme River and Gouin, he said.
Filion said Arcuri told Ducks Unlimited in 2009 that he disagreed with where provincial and municipal authorities drew the floodplain, and that’s why he maintained the property was worth more than $800,000.
Chemin de l’ Anse-à-l’Orme cuts through undeveloped land located in Western Pierrefonds Friday, June 26, 2015.
Chemin de l’ Anse-à-l’Orme cuts through undeveloped land located in Western Pierrefonds Friday, June 26, 2015. Peter McCabe / Montreal Gazette
The other factor affecting the land’s value is how much can be developed under municipal zoning rules.
But the city’s position on that is contradictory.
Montreal’s 2004 urban plan, unveiled by then-mayor Gérald Tremblay’s administration, marked the Manchester Brighton/Uni-Dev land above the river, along with most of western Pierrefonds, for a new zoning category to be created to allow residential construction up to 10 storeys.
In fact, the urban plan showed the tip near Gouin, between Lauzon and Rose-Marie Sts., was already zoned for one- to two-storey construction.
The residential vocation was reiterated in an updated map in the urban plan in 2007.
But the Tremblay administration also publicly pledged to conserve 180 hectares of western Pierrefonds. It produced a map in August 2006 showing all of the Manchester Brighton/Uni-Dev land inside the future eco-territory.
A February 2011 map for the project also shows the full Manchester Brighton/Uni-Dev land inside the eco-territory.
Most of western Pierrefonds is natural space, including forests and wetlands.
The eco-territory is the companion project — or, some argue, the consolation prize — of another plan that has percolated behind closed doors for years, which calls for residential development on another 180 hectares of nature, adjacent to the eco-territory.
Mayor Denis Coderre announced Friday that the city is moving ahead with the development zone and eco-territory as presented in its 2015 land-use plan, and will allow a group of developers to construct 5,000 to 6,000 housing units inside the development zone.
The developers are among the owners who ceded land to the city inside the eco-territory.
Meanwhile, Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough has blocked Manchester Brighton/Uni-Dev from developing its land. A 2009 letter to the Commission de protection du territoire agricole du Québec from a lawyer for Manchester Brighton said the company requested a zoning change for residential development in 2005. The borough didn’t refuse or approve the request, it said — it simply didn’t answer.
The letter also said the city was being secretive about its plans for the land, and expressed concern the property would be expropriated at a derisory price while the city gives a privileged group of developers the right to build adjacent housing.
Having private land in the eco-territory could undermine the conservation project, said David Fletcher, a spokesperson for the Green Coalition, which also opposes the city’s 50-50 development-conservation model that seems to be in vogue in Quebec.