Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Councillors should know limits

Corydon plan nixed because politicians got cosy with biz

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It seems the best public policy is that which tends to make everyone involved just a little unhappy. That is to say, good public policy should never give any one constituency everything it wants at the expense of someone else.

We may never know if the City of Winnipeg was close to good policy in its efforts to come up with development guidelines for Corydon Avenue. What we do know is the process of drafting the guidelines has been crippled, making one constituency very happy, and everyone else mad as hell.

This week, councillors led by the ubiquitous Russ Wyatt (Transcona) introduced a surprise motion at a property and development committee meeting to abandon efforts to develop a secondary development plan for Corydon. Wyatt, along with Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Grand Nordman (St. Charles), were acting on concerns from developers and business owners, who felt the plan was unduly restrictive.

Again, at the request of the developers and business owners, the committee now wants to hire an outside consultant to start anew with an as-yet unidentified process to come up with new, less restrictive guidelines. It's not surprising developers want fewer restrictions; it's enormously surprising the councillors got behind that argument so fully and completely.

The Corydon Business Improvement Zone, which represents business and landowners along Corydon Avenue and connecting streets, has been at the point of the assault on the secondary plan. However, it has been specific businessmen such as Pizza Hotline's energetic Jerry Cianflone and Jeff Rabb of Winpark Dorchester Properties, one of the area's largest landowners, who appear to be driving this bus. That raises some important issues of fairness and process.

Rabb has been outspoken in his criticism of the secondary-plan process. He has alleged draft documents outlining various ideas that have come forward through a public consultation are skewed against developers. He, Cianflone and Wyatt have further alleged the area's councillor, Jenny Gerbasi, and planning department bureaucrats have "poisoned" the process to deliberately stymie developers. In an interview on CJOB radio earlier this week, Rabb said: "It's about one councillor and her two little lackey planners trying to do something to an area without consulting people who will be most affected by it."

First and foremost, everyone in that neighbourhood is affected about the same when it comes to development. You are not more affected because you own more land. That claim only serves to demonstrate the lack of balance in Rabb's argument.

Unaware or unconcerned about the fairness of what they have done, business interests have hijacked a process that is objectively fair in theory. Policies have been forged in specific neighbourhoods all over the city to put limits on development that respect the unique qualities of specific neighbourhoods.

Corydon Avenue has been for years a flashpoint for battles between residents and developers. The shops, cafés, restaurants and bars that make Corydon a destination for Winnipeggers from all corners also make it a sometimes difficult place to reside.

Notwithstanding these concerns, Corydon landowners, developers and business owners have, in recent years, been pushing the envelope. They have proposed larger bars and restaurants and higher and broader multi-family, infill housing. In some instances, they have lost in these bids, but in other instances they have been successful in getting variances for what they wanted.

Here's the problem: There is a limit to what this neighbourhood can absorb in terms of bigger, better development. There is a mature residential neighbourhood in the Corydon mix that must be respected and that's not being done when the committee lurches over to one side in this debate.

Browaty, the property and development committee chairman and a generally reasonable voice, said because Corydon had become a city-wide attraction, the interests of the business owners should take precedence over the residents. Full marks to Browaty for saying what Wyatt and the business owners themselves have had trouble enunciating. However, that's hardly good policy-making.

And the BIZ and individual businessmen are hardly showing intellectual honesty. Allegations Corydon businesses have not been consulted are patently false. They have been at the table making their views known the entire time. Further assertions the secondary plan will kill development is not only false, it is profoundly premature. The process was not yet complete.

The business interests of Corydon Avenue should not be prevented from adding to the already fantastic array of shops, restaurants and patios. However, there should be limits. More importantly, the councillors who have taken up the cause of the business owners need to remember that in this matter, their job is to make policy, not make friends.

'Hijacked' consultations

to remain dead: city

CITY council will not review the effort to squash secondary plans for the Corydon neighbourhood.

Earlier this week, council's property committee approved a surprise motion that called on the city to terminate work on secondary plans for Corydon. The motion introduced by Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) came after the Corydon Avenue BIZ and several business owners sent a letter to Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) and other city officials, calling the process a "stop-growth plan."

They asked the city to terminate the process and hire a third-party consultant to work on new neighbourhood plans.

Initially, city officials said the decision still needed to be approved by council's executive policy committee and city council. Mayor Sam Katz said he wanted to review the decision.

Late Thursday, senior committee clerk Marc Pittet confirmed city lawyers decided council's property committee had the authority to start or stop conceptual planning.

That means the decision is final, unless the property committee rescinds its decision at a later date, or a more powerful committee -- such as EPC or council -- approves a motion to continue work on the secondary plans.

"What has happened is a public process has been hijacked, in an undemocratic manner," Gerbasi said. "The community has had no voice in this. They're up in arms at this point."

Gerbasi said a community meeting will be held on July 10 at the River Osborne Community Centre at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the matter.

She said she still wants to try to get the planning process back on track and repair the rift in the neighbourhood.


-- Jen Skerritt

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2012 B1

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