City’s executive policy committee votes against Polo Park development

By | April 28, 2020

It was a tight vote from a group that often is in agreement.

But on Tuesday, the City of Winnipeg’s executive policy committee voted four to three against a policy change that would allow more residential development in the neighbourhood around Polo Park shopping centre.

Couns. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre), Brian Mayes (St. Vital) and John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) voted against a request to change zoning rules around the mall area.

Couns. Scott Gillingham (St. James) and Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) voted in favour, along with Mayor Brian Bowman.

The proposed change was supported by Cadillac Fairview, which owns the shopping mall, and developers Shindico Realty and Towers Realty.

At issue was a request to change a planning framework known as the Airport Vicinity Protection Area, which restricts development around the airport. The change would allow Cadillac Fairview and Shindico to build housing around the mall and on the former Canad Inns Stadium site to the north.

Officials with James Armstrong Richardson International Airport argue allowing extensive residential development would trigger a major increase in noise complaints, which could threaten the airport’s 24-hour operations. 

City staff had recommended against changing the planning framework, but city council’s Assiniboia community voted in  favour of the proposed changes in March.

Tuesday’s decision sets up a last look at the proposal, which will now move to a vote from all members of city council.

The developers promise hundreds of millions of dollars of construction and related economic activity if allowed to go forward with their plans.

Mayes, who chair’s the city’s property and planning committee, voted against the development but acknowledged it pits two centres of economic development against each other.

“This places [the city] somewhat between a rock and hard place,” Mayes told his fellow councillors.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes says it was difficult to weigh value of 24-7 status of the airport against development of Polo Park area. (CBC )

Bowman voted for changes to the planning framework, but described it as a “sausage that we are having to deal with,” saying he acknowledges both sides of the argument.

“There is a long history that certainly predates my time in office with respect to development in those lands, as well as some of the questions and concerns that you saw raised today about the ongoing importance of the Winnipeg Airport Authority,” Bowman said after the EPC meeting.

One of the development companies involved in the plan says the city is putting itself in a hard place economically by rejecting a massive project, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic stifling economic growth.

“Why, especially now with the city it was already in dire straits — and it is going to be in more dire straits going forward — would you not be giving as close a look to every piece of potential development?” said Shindico’s legal counsel, Justin Zarnowski.

“And this one fundamentally makes sense. The science is behind us. That’s been so frustrating.”

Zarnowski was referring to an engineering consultant hired by Cadillac Fairview, who told the Assiniboia community committee that noise complaints at the Winnipeg airport are down, and most evening approaches come from the north, where there is little residential housing.

Partial heritage status for Somerset Building

The same four councillors who voted against changes to the Airport Vicinity Protection Area voted to grant heritage status to two facades of the Somerset Building on Portage Avenue.

The designations for the 113-year-old building were opposed by its owner, Canad Inns.

EPC voted to designate parts of the Somerset Building with heritage status. (Jaison Empson/CBC )

Canad Inns owner Leo Ledohowski and his daughter Lea, the company’s president, said the historical designation would jeopardize plans Canad Inns has for its downtown properties.

The Ledohowskis have said their planned development would link four of the company’s properties together under one name — Canad Place.

The motion in front of EPC would have granted heritage status to most of the building’s exterior and some parts of its interior, but an amendment scaled that back to only protect two exterior walls of the old building.

Both the Polo Park development request and the heritage status for the building go to a vote by all of city council on May 6.

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