Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Browaty won't back land swap

Says city property should be placed on market to see what it'll fetch

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City council's property chairman says he won't support a controversial land swap proposed by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and he called on the city to place its three properties in question up for sale.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, who worked as a real-estate appraiser before he was elected to city council, announced Friday he does not support a plan to trade two former fire halls and a parcel of Fort Rouge land to Shindico Realty in exchange for the Taylor Avenue site of the fire-paramedic Station No. 12.

This fall, council is expected to vote on a plan to swap the old Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue, the soon-to-be-decommissioned Station No. 11 on Berry Street and about half a hectare of vacant city land on Mulvey Avenue East for the site of the new Station No. 12, completed earlier this year on Shindico's property.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz has ordered a financial review of the proposed deal, which has come under fire from councillors who are angry it was not disclosed by city staff.

On Friday, Browaty said no matter what the review determines, he will not support the proposed swap.

Instead, he would like to see what the properties would fetch on the open market, if city council declares them surplus.

"I want to put the properties on the open market and see what they'll get," he said, echoing the opinion of former councillor Peter Kaufmann, who now works as a commercial real estate broker.

Earlier this week, Kaufmann said the city didn't follow procedure when it negotiated a swap that didn't allow the three city-owned properties to be made available to other commercial real estate firms.

On Friday, Katz advised reporters not to quote the former councillor because "Mr. Kaufmann is a competitor in the industry."

When told other commercial real estate professionals have said they are afraid to speak out against the land swap in fear of retaliation from the city, possibly by delaying zoning variances, Katz said critics should speak to him in person.

"That would be unadulterated nonsense," Katz said. "You tell them to have a one-on-one meeting with me in private if they want. If people aren't prepared to speak out, then there is something wrong."

Kat'z review is intended to examine the financial aspects of the proposed swap, not the process that led to its creation. The mayor has said he wants to ensure taxpayers are getting a good deal.

While both Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi and Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation have called for a broad formal audit of the way the city divests itself of real estate, Katz said he is not ready to call for a wider investigation.

"I am here to tell you that I have asked for the financial review, that's No. 1. You've asked me on another topic (and) I haven't decided anything on that," he said, referring to the review underway by chief financial officer Mike Ruta and chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl.

On Aug. 31, Ruta and Sheegl told reporters they were confident the city followed its procedures.

Browaty said he agrees it is "a little bit troubling" the same officials who signed off on the process are reviewing the deal, but said he will wait to see the full scope of the review.

"I have a lot of faith in the fire chief. He's an excellent director," Browaty said of fire-paramedic Chief Reid Douglas, who negotiated the land swap with the help of city real estate officials.

"That said, he definitely went beyond his bounds on this one."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2012 A3

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