Polo Park development vote may skid off runway again

By | May 27, 2020

One of the developers hoping to do a massive makeover in Winnipeg’s Polo Park area says more delays could jeopardize the project.

City councillors have been asked to hold off on voting this Friday to change the Airport Vicinity Protection Area Secondary Plan — a planning framework that restricts development around the airport in order to limit residential noise complaints.

The city’s legal department says it’s waiting for the government of Canada to signal its position on the development.

The delay would be the second time city council deferred a vote on the project, following a council vote earlier this month.

The general counsel for Shindico Realty — one of the developers hoping to put up apartment buildings near the CF Polo Park shopping centre — says every day of delay brings the possibility one of its partners in the proposed development, Cadillac Fairview, could walk away from the project.

“The way they’ve been treated also means they may think twice about the further city approvals they’d need to get in order to actually build residential,” said Shindco’s Justin Zarnowski in an email.

The first wrinkle in getting a decision came just a day before council’s last meeting on May 6, when the Winnipeg Airports Authority sent a letter to the city asking for the whole process to be moved to the province’s municipal board.

The airports authority opposes changes to the plan, saying extensive residential development in the area would trigger a major increase in noise complaints, which could threaten the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport’s 24-hour operations. 

The Winnipeg Airports Authority said it has the right to appeal to the municipal board “in the name of the government of Canada.”

Earlier this month, Transport Canada told CBC the WAA does not have the authority to speak on behalf of the federal government in its effort to move the zoning process to the municipal board, because it is not “an agent of the Crown.”

The Winnipeg Airports Authority claims residential development would generate noise complaints and threaten its 24/7 operations. (CBC)

“The government of Canada has not taken a position on the matter currently being disputed between the Winnipeg Airports Authority and the City of Winnipeg,” Transport Canada said in an email.

Despite that public statement, the city’s legal department is still seeking clarity from Transport Canada and has asked for another month’s delay from council.

Some councillors won’t support further delays.

“Let’s proceed,” said Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona). “I have not heard or seen anything that would require more delays.”

Others say they’re frustrated with a lack of information on the matter.

“I’m very concerned that the mayor and administration are not informing all members of the council entirely on this and many issues facing our city,” said Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood). 

“Backdoor decisions and withholding information must stop.”

Others are willing to wait until the city sorts out the legal issues.

Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) says she will vote for the changes to the airport area plan and allow the project to go ahead, seeing no problem with the airport and residential development existing side-by-side.

However, Lukes says she’ll support a delay if the city needs to get more information about the legal matters. 

“I see no urgency [or] cost to the city in a delay, so I would support another adjournment,” Lukes told CBC News.

Shindico’s lawyer says the Winnipeg Airports Authority never had the legal right to take the process to the municipal board in the first place and cannot invoke the authority of the federal government. He says council should get on with it and vote.

“We had hoped the city would show more leadership faced with these tactics, and we hope that the city councillors choose to vote on this matter and not delay it any further,” said Zarnowski.

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