Calgary man pleads with province to buy land after 12-year ordeal over what he can build

Jarnail Sihota says he’s been in limbo for the past 12 years after he was denied permission to build on land he owns in Chestermere. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)
Jarnail Sihota says he’s been in limbo for the past 12 years after he was denied permission to build on land he owns in Chestermere. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)

A Calgary man who owns seven hectares of land in nearby Chestermere that's earmarked for a future highway widening says he's been stuck with it for 12 years and now wants some closure.

Jarnail Sihota says he discovered he couldn't develop the parcel of land, which used to house a water park, when he applied to build a hotel and conference centre in 2011.

He bought the land, which is near the junction of Highway 1 and Chestermere Boulevard, from a bank in the early 1990s. His intention was to develop it as an investment — first as an RV park, and then as the site of a hotel.

After his 2011 application, he says he was told by the provincial government that the land might be needed for a highway project in the future, which was outlined in a functional planning study. He says the application was turned down and the zoning on his parcel of land was changed.

That left Sihota and his financial future in limbo with no solution in sight and no offer to buy the land. He says it's now been 12 years since that application.

"If they don't have a project for the next 20-30 years, I'm done. I'm 70 now. I was 58 when I was planning. Which is sad and a very wrong thing," said Sihota.

"They should buy it because I own it and they want to build a highway," he said. "And the land cannot be sold because it has a restriction that the government is needing it."

CBC News contacted Alberta Transportation for an interview on Monday and again on Tuesday but didn't hear back. The City of Chestermere was also asked to comment but didn't respond prior to publication.

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC

Sihota says he has been paying property taxes, which have increased five-fold, and he's already lost significantly on his investment.

Because of the restriction on development, Sihota says it's unlikely anyone else would want to buy the land.

He says the original estimated cost to build a hotel and conference centre was around $40 million, which is now likely much more expensive and out of reach financially.

"And if I have to find a similar location elsewhere, I don't think I can find that for even one million dollars per acre," he said.

Sihota calls what's happening a de-facto expropriation of his land.

"They already did it. They took it, but they just don't want to pay for it," said Sihota.

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC

He says the province has purchased other nearby parcels from landowners but won't do the same for his.

Under the new zoning, if he does build anything, he might face having to tear it down and remediate the land when the province comes calling for it. He says that's enough to scare away banks and lenders.

Sihota says he's written a letter to the premier, several ministers, his MLA and Chestermere's mayor, and he's been trying to get the issue resolved through the courts.