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Some councillors rethinking approval of condo subsidy

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Condo complexes along Waterfront Drive.

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Condo complexes along Waterfront Drive.

City hall’s plan to cut $10,000 cheques to anyone who buys a new Exchange District or Waterfront Drive condo appears destined to be amended or killed this fall, as some of the councillors who voted in favour of the plan are reconsidering the idea.

On Wednesday, council voted 13-3 in favour of the Exchange Waterfront Neighbourhood Development Program, a $7.8-million plan to improve pedestrian streetscapes and the quality of residential life in the northeastern third of downtown Winnipeg.

That plan included $2.3-million worth of incentives to anyone who buys a new, unsold and unoccupied condo in the Exchange District, Chinatown, the Civic Centre neighbourhood and the western edge of South Point Douglas. The subsidy is intended to eliminate a surplus of condo units downtown, including units built under a previous city-provincial tax-incentive program.

The entire $7.8-million program will be debt-financed up front and then repaid by future property taxes flowing from new residential developments in all parts of downtown.

On Wednesday, Couns. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry), Brian Mayes (St. Vital) and Russ Wyatt (Transcona) voted against the plan. Orlikow said property developers should lower their prices if their stock isn’t moving, Mayes said suburban residents may resent the subsidy and Wyatt said the city can not afford to devote future property taxes toward the plan.

Now, days after the vote, Couns. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) and Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) say they too have issues with the $10,000-subsidy component of the plan. Browaty and Fielding say they’ve heard from residents upset with the plan, while Gerbasi said she was not aware tax revenue from across downtown will be funneled into one area.

All three conceded they had not exercised proper due diligence regarding the Exchange-Waterfront program, which was presented to a special meeting of council’s downtown, heritage and riverbank committee nine days before the council vote.

Downtown chairman Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) said he still supports the subsidy, but says there is an opportunity to amend the plan because a bylaw must be written and enacted before it takes effect.

Fielding said he would like to kill the subsidy altogether, but Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck said it’s also possible to make the incentive into a pilot program, possibly by reducing the number of $10,000 cheques from 230 to 50.

She also took a shot at Browaty and Fielding, her former colleagues on executive policy committee.

"I question why they listen to their constituents on this one but not on other things," she said, citing the city’s property-tax increase and council spending allowances as examples.

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