A dust cloud fills an area at the end of Kantola Road in Sudbury on a recent Wednesday morning, as crews from Hydro One drill through rock to relocate a hydro pole.
Two police cars are parked nearby, side-by-side, in case there’s trouble. But all is quiet, and officers are chatting with one another through their car windows as hydro workers go about their business.
The pole is being moved as part of a plan to end a nasty and convoluted dispute between the city and a resident on the road, Richard Majkot, who hopes to build his dream home on his Kantola Road property.
A colourful figure, Majkot was a candidate for the Tories in the 2006 federal election in the riding of Vaughan. He garnered 26 per cent of the vote and finished second to Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua.
He’s also executive director of the City of Toronto Administrative, Professional, Supervisory Association, a body that represents 4,000 management staff at the City of Toronto.
In Sudbury, he’s known as the man fighting city hall for the last year or so. The dispute has been in the media for a while, but on this morning, Sept. 19, there’s hope a resolution is at hand.
Although it won’t come quietly — not surprising, given the toxic tone of the fight Majkot and his wife has waged with the city since last summer.
Problems came to a head in 2011 when the city rebuilt a part of Kantola Road, a long, rough and narrow stretch of road off the Highway 17 bypass in Walden, on the opposite side of the highway from Fielding Park.
The road has encroached on his land for years, but Majkot said the rebuilt road went much further onto his property, to the point he didn’t have enough room to build his long-planned dream house for him, his wife, Nadia, and their disabled son.
“Five years ago we put down money to build a home,” he says. “And then we ran into all this s--t.”
The Majkots built a septic bed to accommodate their new home, but the bed is located under the new road the city built last summer. That meant they no longer had enough room to build the Viceroy home they planned.
In an effort to resolve the matter, Majkot said he offered last year to trade land with the city, giving up the property where the road is located in exchange for an equal amount of city land next door. He was going to move his septic bed and allow the road to stay where it was.
“We went to the city and we said ‘look, we have a problem,’” he said. “'But if you want to leave the road there, we’d be more than happy to exchange an equal amount of land that the road occupies for park land, because we need to put our septic system in there.' They said no... They gave us no reason.”
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau, who has become a target of much of the Majkot’s anger over the dispute, said in a Sept. 18 interview that he personally took the offer to city staff, but ran into a major roadblock.
“The land exchange wasn’t an option,” Barbeau said. “It’s 100 per cent against provincial policy to give up Crown parkland. So we are where we are today.”
The city offered to buy the property from the Majkots, paying for a survey of the property and offering $20,000 for the strip of land where the road was located. It was an offer he refused, Majkot said, because he then wouldn’t have enough land to build his home.
“They came back to us with the same map, and they were still taking land away only from us,” Nadia said. “That was the moment that we really got offended. We said no, but then they started to build the road anyway.”
The dispute stalemated at that point, Majkot says, so he took steps to press home his point.
“And at some point during this time, we decided to start to reclaim our property,” he said. “So we put up some boulders and trees.”
“So that’s how we started to push back, right?” Nadia said. “To make a statement.”
They had a survey done delineating exactly where their property lines were, and the surveyor installed iron bars to show exactly where the Majkot’s property ends.
Majkot put up the boulders on the road in winter 2011 and planted trees. Nadia said city staff pushed back almost right away.
“They said we have to move it because it was blocking the city from plowing the road,” she said. “Our response was that was it’s on our property and we’re not moving anything. They had the right to finish the road properly … and to have a nice day.”
What followed was a flurry of bylaw complaints, first against Majkot — accusing him of various violations – and later against neighbours in the area.
Since bylaw investigations are complaint-driven, presumably someone in the area complained about supposed issues on Majkot’s property, and then someone in the area complained about supposed issues on other properties.
But Majkot is certain the bylaw complaints were part of a campaign to harass him because of the stand he was taking on the road. In fact, he says many people have conspired against him at the city, although he struggles to say exactly why, and he has theories such as blackmail or personal connections at city hall.
He was able to resolve all his issues with the bylaw infractions, but is convinced he was singled out because of the dispute over the road.
It’s an assertion Barbeau denies.
“There’s no vendetta,” Barbeau said. “If you follow the story from the start, staff has been exceptionally reasonable. They’ve been doing everything they possibly can to put this behind us.
“He makes comments about bylaw (complaints). I mean, people can draw their own assumptions, but bylaw enforcement is a reactionary arm of the city and they only attend when somebody calls … The city does not arbitrarily pick on neighbours or anyone else.”
In any event, the city is rerouting the road before the end of the year, putting it on land to which the city has rights, Barbeau said. Before that can be done, however, the hydro pole had to be moved to accommodate the new route.
In a series of emails Majkot copied to Northern Life, he objected to the way the city is relocating the pole, insisting proper procedures weren’t followed. The most recent was sent on the morning of Sept. 19, as Hydro One crews were already on site.
“There is serious damage being done to the Majkot’s cottage as a result of Hydro One drilling the rock in front of 1230 Kantola Road,” Carrie Liddy, Majkot’s lawyer, wrote. “Specifically: Hydro One has been drilling rock since early this morning, without an inspection of the home … We are holding you and the City of Greater Sudbury responsible for the damages to property and any harm to the Majkots.
“I am again making you aware that the Majkots have a handicapped son who is currently present at the home at 1230 Kantola Road,” Liddy continues. “Please immediately cease the drilling until proper notification is given and the inspection is completed and the Majkot’s can make proper arrangements for their son.”
What has bothered Majkot from the beginning of the dispute is the fact the city had rights to enough land to build the road without encroaching on his property. Instead, it was built partly on Majkot’s land, and also encroached onto the Long Lake Park next door. How, he wonders, could that have happened?
“Nobody’s ever answered that question,” Majkot said.
“We are hoping this is something you can find out,” added Nadia.
Barbeau said the answer to that question is simple: a city employee, who no longer works at the corporation, drew the road relocation away from the city’s land in a misguided attempt to help some of the residents in the area.
Some of those neighbours have owned property for generations on Kantola Road, Barbeau said, and have built up areas around their homes. Some of those built-up areas are on city land, and the former employee attempted to route the road around these areas.
“The only fault of staff, other than agreeing to do this project, was in trying to please too many neighbours,” he said. “They were trying to accommodate too many people. I mean, this road has been there for 100 years. Families have lived there for that many years, since the road was built.
“And if we’ve learned anything for the future, it’s that when you go in, you move it immediately onto city property and avoid trying to be the good guy .... Not that you want to be the bad guy, but if we had followed policy, we could have avoided some issues there.”
Families built on areas that technically are on city property, and it was difficult to go in there and pave over structures that have been there for so long, he said.
There’s no vendetta.
Councillor, Ward 12
“They’ve assumed that it’s their property, and now in 2012 we’re telling them that here’s our right of way, and here’s where we’re going to move the road,” Barbeau said. “This has created a lot of problems at the end of the road for a lot of residents.”
He said the road will be rerouted again before the end of the 2012 construction season. At that point, Majkot will be able to build his new home and life in the area can go back to normal.
Barbeau takes issue with the personal attacks Majkot has launched at him and staff. Barbeau is singled out on a sign Majkot put on the fence he built on the wrongly routed road.
“Mr. Majkot has a sign on his fence that says ‘Road to Nowhere,’” he said. “Well, it is a road to nowhere. It’s a dead end. So it’s aptly named.”
And while he doesn’t appreciate the attacks, Barbeau said it comes with the job description when you’re a politician.
“That’s fine. I’m a political figure. To some degree, that’s what you sign up for,” he said. “But I’ve done everything I can to resolve this. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on this. I came back from vacation on Manitoulin Island on two occasions last year, because police got involved in the situation.
“For him to make comments like he does, that’s fine, if that’s the road he wants to take. I choose to take the high road …”
What he can’t understand is why the Majkots are still so vocal when the city is rerouting the road away from their property.
“The fact that he continues to make noise and create issues is irrelevant. We’re moving forward. The hydro pole will be moved (Sept. 19), and immediately after that – I would think next week – the finishing of the road will commence.
“It will be moved onto the city right-of-way and we’re going to move forward.”
The Majkots say they have documents showing that $1 million has been spent on the road. But Barbeau says that’s nowhere near correct. According to city planning documents, the budget for the roadwork was originally $200,000. Barbeau said about $110,000 has been spent so far, and the budget will stay within $200,000, even when the road is done again.
For his part, Majkot said he’d like to be optimistic that a solution is at hand, but is doubtful. He’s filed complaints with both Auditor General Brian Bigger and Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, and continues his campaign to bring attention to his family’s situation.
“A year ago, if they had built the road properly, everything would be done,” he said. “Now, additional taxpayers’ dollars will have to be spent to fix this problem.”
But on Sept. 19, as Hydro One crews moved the telephone pole, Majkot said he should be able to build his Viceroy home, assuming the road is relocated where the city says it’s going.
“But we’ve been burnt before,” he said.