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Condo developer Thomas Liu — who collected millions but hasn’t built anything — loses court fight with Town of Ajax

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Embattled condo developer Thomas Liu of the LeMine Investment Group suffered another setback Friday when a Superior Court judge ruled against him in his legal battle with the Town of Ajax.

Justice Anne Mullins found the town was entitled to repurchase the land it had transferred to Liu’s company because he failed to begin construction of his proposed development by July 15, 2017, as spelled out in their agreement.

Thomas Liu, head of LeMine Investment Group, is a developer who dreams big but can’t seem to get anything built. He admits his lack of experience has led to some mistakes, but he says his intentions were always noble.
Thomas Liu, head of LeMine Investment Group, is a developer who dreams big but can’t seem to get anything built. He admits his lack of experience has led to some mistakes, but he says his intentions were always noble.  (Lemine Group/YouTube)

The land was slated to be the location of Central Park Ajax, a 410-unit condo project that opened to a frenzied sellout in the spring of 2016. The condo tower was supposed to usher in the revitalization of downtown.

Liu said Friday he plans to appeal the decision. “It appears to be errors of law,” he wrote in an email.

Read more:

This condo developer collected millions in deposits — and hasn’t built anything

Liu and his company were the subject of a Star investigation published online Thursday that found the 35-year-old’s ambitious ideas outstripped his abilities, that he relied on slick marketing to project credibility despite his lack of experience, and that he has failed to deliver high-profile projects. Liu, who is embroiled in 14 different lawsuits, is also the developer of The Academy, a Scarborough condo project that sold out in 2014 and has yet to break ground. Liu said that development is “stuck,” but it is not cancelled.

Twelve condo projects — with a combined 5,625 units — have been canceled in the Toronto area since the beginning of last year, according to market research company Urbanation. Barring a successful appeal from Liu, Central Park Ajax will join that list. The spate of high-profile cancellations — including two major projects in Vaughan in the last six months — have sparked concern over whether there are sufficient protections for buyers, many of whom are priced out of the market by the time their deposits are returned.

On Thursday, the CEO of Ontario’s home warranty program told the Star it’s time the province looks at upgrading protections and transparency for pre-construction homebuyers.

In the case of Central Park Ajax, some purchasers have already pulled out, paying $423.75 in lawyer fees to get back their deposits, which have not accrued interest. Some of those who have yet to ask for their money back had told the Star they were waiting for the outcome of the court case before making a decision.

“I’m ready to get my money back now,” said Ayesha Karatella, 29 after hearing of Friday’s ruling. “I won’t be waiting around for an appeal.”

Karatella purchased a two-bedroom unit in Central Park Ajax for $336,000 and paid more than $33,000 in deposits. It would have been her first home. She said she “kind of expected” Friday’s decision, but was still disappointed and frustrated by the experience.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests show there were major problems with the development almost as soon as Liu and his company took it over. Liu struggled to secure financing, failed to pay tradespeople, defaulted on the property’s mortgage and let the sales centre fall into disrepair, according to internal staff emails, letters from town lawyers and property records.

Liu sued the town earlier this year for $300 million claiming they did not have the right to repurchase the land and had breached their contract. He alleged the July 15, 2017 deadline was negated because the town had neither accepted nor rejected his revised site plan submission to increase the project from 10 to 12 storeys. The town said Liu never submitted a complete application. Justice Mullins agreed.

While the town’s planners provided comments to Liu about the material he submitted, Justice Mullins wrote, they also made clear what required materials were outstanding. Specifically Liu did not submit “fully realized” roofing plans, a traffic study, as well as environmental approvals.

She also said it was clear Liu was fully aware of the deadline to begin construction. All of the evidence, Mullins wrote, points to “a mutual interpretation” between the two sides that construction was supposed to begin no later than July 15, 2017.

“The Town is pleased with the decision and can now move forward pursuing the revitalization of the Ajax Plaza site,” town spokeswoman Rachael Wraith said in a written statement.

Brendan Kennedy is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Contact him at bkennedy@thestar.ca or 416-869-4192. Follow him on Twitter: @BKennedyStar



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Regina Pioneer Village resident says long-term solution needed now – Regina

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Regina Pioneer Village is Saskatchewan’s largest seniors complex, but the provincially run facility has been on life support for years.

Now, one longtime resident is speaking out and hoping the province will find a permanent solution to the complex’s infrastructure problems.


READ MORE:
Regina Pioneer Village not the only long-term care facility on life support

“This used to be my home. Now, it’s just a death trap,” said Cathy Girard, a resident of the complex.

Girard moved to the facility in 2007, but over the years she says the standard of care has deteriorated.

“We have mould, we’re overrun with mice — and the shortage of staff, especially nurses, housekeepers and doctors,” Girard said.

“A lot of people are complaining that their eyes are watering, and they have breathing problems.”


READ MORE:
Almost 100 Regina Pioneer Village residents being moved due to mould

The Pioneer Village facility was built in two phases – the first in 1967 and the second in 1972. Due to its age, the building has recently been plagued with ongoing infrastructure issues including weakening brickwork and ageing plumbing and electrical systems.

Back in April, the Saskatchewan Health Authority moved around 94 residents from the facility after a report showed an excessive amount of mould.

Since then, Girard says they’ve been left with more questions than answers.

“What’s going to happen? Are we going to get a new building, or a Band-Aid solution?” Girard said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says remediation is currently taking place.

“We have ongoing weekly monitoring and we have air quality monitoring so we feel comfortable with the steps that we’ve taken [and] that the environment remains safe for residents to remain in it and staff to work in it at this time,” said Debbie Sinnett, executive director of ongoing care at Pioneer Village.

In 2014, a provincial report indicated the facility needed around $60 million worth of repairs, but over the past four years, the province has invested just over $8 million.


READ MORE:
Regina Pioneer Village now dealing with water line break

“Every time it rains, there are tiles falling down on people’s heads, and in the summer there’s water leaks, cracks in the ceiling, cracks in the building,” Girard said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it’s working closely with the Ministry of Health to come up with a long-term solution, but Girard says the clock is ticking.

“We can’t just be waiting and sitting on our thumbs; we’ve got to have help now,” she said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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Ontario government says cannabis stores to be phased in

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The Ontario government says it plans to take a « phased approach » to introducing retail cannabis stores, with only a handful of licences being handed out at first.

In a statement Thursday evening, the province says it will issue up to 25 licences ahead of the first day of private retail sales on April 1.

It says the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will implement a lottery system to determine who is eligible for the initial licences, with the results announced in January.

The province’s Tory government says it was compelled to implement the phased approach due to « severe supply shortages » being experienced by cannabis outlets across the country.

The announcement comes on the same day councillors in Torontoand Ottawa voted to allow privately operated retail stores to open within their boundaries.

The only legal way for Ontario residents to currently acquire recreational weed is through a government-run website, the Ontario Cannabis Store, which has experienced its own shortages.



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Council agrees to talks with province about TTC subway upload

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Councillors have voted to enter into discussions with Premier Doug Ford’s government about the province’s plan to take ownership of the TTC subway system, even though they registered their opposition to the plan.

At a meeting Thursday, council voted 24 to 1 to approve recommendations in a report from City Manager Chris Murray to start talks with the province on a potential “upload” of the subway to Queen’s Park.

But they also voted 23 to 2 to in favour of an amendment from Mayor John Tory to “reaffirm (council’s) support for keeping ownership of the Toronto Transit Commission in the City of Toronto.”

Council passed a similar motion in May, after the Ontario PCs floated the upload in their election platform.

In a speech to council, Tory expressed skepticism about the upload, saying the Ontario PCs have never fleshed out the plan in detail and suggesting the proposal was “a solution in search of a problem.”

The PCs say the city has a poor track record of building new lines, and the province is better positioned financially to create an efficient regional transit network.

But city staff were unable to answer questions raised by councillors Thursday about what the plan would mean for TTC service or the city’s ability to co-ordinate transit with land use planning.

I think, in the end, the best way to protect the transit system … is to go to the table and get answers to the questions,” said Tory.

Staunch opponents of the upload agreed it was best to talk with Queen’s Park, given the legislative authority the province has over the city.

“As the largest city in this country, as the economic engine of this province and country, our ability to own and operate the transit system is central to our success,” said Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York). He said he saw “zero benefit” to Ford’s government taking over the subway.

“I believe we should use absolutely every tool that we have, every tool at our disposal, to fight this. And that includes, based on our legislative framework, being at the table.”

The recommendations approved by council authorize the city manager to enter into an agreement with the province under which the city would share information about the subway system that could help facilitate the upload.

Staff are expected to report back to council early next year with an update.

In a letter to Tory last month, Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said he wanted the city’s written commitment by no later than Thursday that it would participate in the information-sharing agreement.

The minister said the goal of the exercise is to assess the value of the subway assets, the maintenance backlog, and the operating costs of the network.

A confidential legal opinion attached to the city report warned council effectively has no legal power to prevent the upload.

The legal opinion, which was obtained by the Star, said Queen’s Park could unilaterally take ownership of the network without compensating the city financially, and even leave the municipality on the hook for the billions of dollars of debt it has accrued funding the system.

Although the city manager’s recommendations passed with almost unanimous support, some councillors vowed fierce pushback if the province actually takes concrete steps to upload the subway. Yurek has said the Ontario PC’s could introduce enabling legislation early next year.

Councillor Krystin Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Centre) called the subway the “heart and the spine” of Toronto and argued it has to remain integrated with the bus and streetcar network in order to provide quality service. She urged council to block Ford’s plans.

“I think we’re about to get into the biggest fight in this term if (Ford) is successful in taking this away from us” she said.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Yurek said he was pleased with council’s decision.

“Our government was elected to get the people of Ontario moving and we are working towards that goal,” he said. Yurek claimed that the city “is not good at planning or building subways.”

He promised to carry out talks with the city “in good faith.”

In another significant transit decision Thursday, council voted 19 to 3 to extend the King St. streetcar pilot project until July 31, 2019. City transportation staff said they needed more time to collect and report on data from the pilot, which was set to expire on December 31. Their final report is expected by March, after which council will decide whether to make the project permanent.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr



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