I hope this is just a negotiation tactic:
EXCLUSIVE: Landowners say Speedway deal dead
Without land purchase, Fort Erie project can’t go forward
EXCLUSIVE: Landowners say Speedway deal dead. Property owners near the proposed Canadian Motor Speedway say they’re tired of repeated assurances by the developers to close the deal on the purchase of their land.
After being repeatedly assured that a deal was imminent, two property owners have given up on the Canadian Motor Speedway, throwing the entire project into jeopardy.
As a condition of the holding provisions for the by-law to approve the speedway, the developers must first acquire three properties from homeowners in the area.
But after what they described as years of promises by Speedway director Azhar Mohammed to finalize the purchase of their properties, those homeowners have now given up on the deal entirely, effectively stopping the $400-million project in its tracks.
Mohammed, however, says there’s been a misunderstanding, and they have every intention of closing the deal.
After watching deadline after deadline float by without any movement, Richard Jukosky and Mike Racey, two of the land owners, gave Mohammed an ultimatum.
Jukosky said the agreed upon closing date of Nov. 12 — a date he said was chosen by Mohammed — passed without any movement on the sale of either property.
“He said the money would be here soon, then the closing date came, and we haven’t heard from him since,” said Jukosky.
Racey provided Niagara this Week with a voicemail recording left by Mohammed, in which he repeatedly told Racey not to worry, and agreed to the sale deadline.
“We’re definitely closing early next week,” said Mohammed on the voicemail from Nov. 1. “In 10 days you’ll have the funds.”
John Crossingham, a St. Catharines lawyer who specializes in municipal cases, has been representing both Racey and Jukosky from the beginning. He confirmed to Niagara this Week the deadline for the sale of the properties came and went without receiving any contact from anyone representing the speedway.
“As far as I’m concerned, the deal is finished,” said Crossingham.
Asked if he had made any subsequent attempts to contact the speedway developers concerning the closing, Crossingham said at this point he had “no reason to communicate with them.”
When reached on his cell by Niagara this Week for comment, Mohammed said, “I don’t care what Mr. Crossingham says,” and denied the existence of any deadline for the deal.
“I think our own lawyers have a different opinion,” said Mohammed. “We have every intention of closing with them.”
He added there have been some issues transferring the funds, and said there is always a lot of “scrutiny” when transferring money from the Middle East to Canada.
When asked how he plans to broker a deal which the landowners say is dead, Mohammed replied “the town will have to deal with them with respect to the project.”
“We’re not running away from our obligation here,” said Mohammed.
He believes there was some misunderstanding between himself and the landowners with respect to the final closing date, but when asked to clarify he said, “stop wasting my time,” and hung up the phone.
Jukosky and Racey only gave Mohammed a final deadline for the sale, because of what they said were so many previous broken deadlines.
“He (Mohammed) was always telling us he needed just a bit more time, always saying ‘the money is on its way’ but it never was,” said Jukosky.
Racey said he’s also dealt with a string of aborted deadlines and broken promises from Mohammed.
“He’s … creating a lot of false hope,” said Racey as he flipped through hundreds of pages of legal correspondence between various law firms.
Both homeowners said they have now accumulated thousands of dollars of legal expenses as a result of repeated sale negotiations, and are also fed up with the stress that follows each new letdown.
Jukosky and Racey had both put in offers on new homes after being assured by Mohammed they would have the funds to purchase the houses by Nov. 12, but have now had to cancel those plans.
Now in his 70s, Jukosky said he just wants to get out of the state of limbo he’s found himself in for the past six years, and move on to his retirement plans with his wife Carol.
“We gave him the benefit of the doubt and gave him one last chance,” said Racey as he recalled his final talk with Mohammed.
“When he gave me his word back then, I told him ‘are you sure you want to say that?’ because I’d had enough of this emotional rollercoaster. It’s been six years, I want to get on with my life, this was the final straw,” said Racey.
Despite his initial displeasure with the idea of selling the place he called home for 39 years to make room for a speedway, Jukosky said he was fully prepared to do so, and was looking forward to seeing the project come to life. With the potential closure of the horse racing track looming, Jukosky said he eventually agreed the town needed the economic boost the speedway would provide.
“I love this house, but it’s big,” said Jukosky. “It was a fair deal, we would have been happy to take it and move out to a smaller place, but he (Azhar) never came through.”
He called much of the public opposition to the speedway “a farce” and said the claims of at-risk species such as bobolinks being found in the area are unfounded.
“The soybean farms here have completely removed the songbird population from the area. I think the speedway would actually be an improvement for the environment here,” said Jukosky.
Racey is also fully supportive of seeing the speedway built, and is aware that as one of a small handful of people with the power to stop a project which many in Fort Erie believe is the town’s last great hope for survival, he’s in quite an awkward position.
“I’ve already had threats over this,” said Racey. “But we’re real people, with lives, and we’ve been strung along too many times now, we’ve got to move on. I just don’t think the money is really there.”
Due to a sunset clause, the holding provisions on the speedway by-law won’t expire until Sep. 2020, meaning the elderly Jukosky’s options are limited.
They can either sell to the Speedway or stay in their home.
After six years of trying to sell to the Speedway to no avail, Jukosky said he’s finished with all the lawyering and negotiating.
“No more deals, no more extensions,” said Jukosky. “He’s lost our trust.”