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City drives hard condo bargain

Conversion of Village church hinges on car-share deal

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A new proposal has emerged for the redevelopment of a 99-year-­old Osborne Village church, and this one has a unique twist.
Steinbach-based Stonebridge De­velopment Corp. Ltd. has purchased the former First Church of Christ, Scientist at 511 River Ave. It wants to convert it into a four-storey, 46-unit condominium development.
And to overcome a shortage of park­ing stalls on the site, the City of Win­nipeg is insisting that Stonebridge in­corporate a car-sharing program into the development — something that has never been required before in Win­nipeg but that Stonebridge president Kurtis Sawatzky said the firm is will­ing to do.
Senior city planner Michael Robin­son said if this car-sharing proposal succeeds, more are likely to follow.
"I think it’s fair to say that if this is successful, we will be looking at doing it in other situations, as well," Robinson said.
If the Stonebridge project proceeds — Sawatzky said that depends on the car-sharing proposal being approved and final cost estimates coming in on target — it would mean a new lease on life for a building that two years ago faced the threat of a wrecker’s ball.
In 2003, First Church sold the prop­erty to Winnipeg businessmen Ben Haber and Steve Freed, who wanted to convert it into eight luxury condomin­iums. However, they discovered mould and asbestos behind the walls and ceil­ings and said it would cost $700,000 to remove it. So they applied for permis­sion to demolish the structure, and after the city’s historical buildings committee opposed the request, they sold the building to Stonebridge.
Although car-sharing programs come in a variety of forms, they essentially involve a number of people sharing in the use of a vehicle. In some cases, someone else owns it and they each pay a fee to use it, and in other cases the users co-own it.
The city wants Stonebridge to buy three cars and make them available to tenants in the development. Stonebri­dge is willing to acquire the vehicles, but wants to sell them to interested groups of tenants who would then own and maintain them themselves.
Robinson said incorporating car­share programs into condo plans has already hap­pened in cities such as Vancou­ver and Edin­burgh, Scotland. It was also re­cently incorpor­ated into zoning bylaws in Austin, Tex.
Sawatzky figures one-quarter of the 46 condo owners might be interested in sharing a vehicle. He and Robinson said Osborne Village is an ideal place to test the concept because many resi­dents walk or take the bus to work.
Before the proposal can be adopted, the city must grant Stonebridge a zon­ing variance. The city’s board of ad­justments is to hear the matter on May 13. If approved, the public would have 17 days to appeal the decision.
Sawatzky said if a parking com­promise can’t be found — city bylaws require 55 parking stalls for a condo project that size — the redevelopment won’t proceed.
"But everybody wants this thing to happen... and we’re all pulling in the same direction. So we’re very, very confident we can make this work."
Condos would range in size from 511 to 960 square feet, with the bulk of them in the 580­ to 800-square-foot range.
Robinson said there aren’t many new condo develop­ments in Winnipeg with such small units. The developers appear to be tar­geting students, young professionals, or people who looking to downsize, he said.
Sawatzky said smaller, more afford­able condos are a good fit for the area. Although the asking prices won’t be set until they determine final construction costs, Sawatzky said the smaller ones will be priced at less than $200,000.
He also didn’t appear overly con­cerned about the mould and asbestos.
"Whatever we need to do to fix it, we’ll do it," he said.
Stonebridge thinks it can make the project work because it can do much of the engineering and construction work itself. Sawatzky said the two Steinbach firms that own Stonebridge — KNH Sawatzky & Associates, which is his own architectural and structural en­gineering company, and G & E Homes — have more than 20 years of experi­ence in designing and developing condo projects. And the architect — Giovanni Geremia, of GW Architecture Inc. — has extensive experience with heritage buildings. "We’ve done this before and we know what works."
Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who chairs the historic buildings com­mittee, said she hopes the project pro­ceeds. "To see this empty building be­ing put to use and coming back to life is very exciting for Osborne Village, if that happens."

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