A development plan for construction of up to 1,500 new homes off Henderson Highway in the RM of St. Clements will change the capital-region neighbourhood's rural character, say critics.
The development would cover roughly 220 hectares (less than a square mile combined) of what's now farmland between the Red River and the former CN Rail tracks and between Old River Road to the south and Church Road to the north.
Residential density would be three homes per .4 hectare. The plan is expected to come before council as early as next month.
St. Clements resident Craig Henderson said he doesn't oppose development but opposes it at those density levels.
"The issue is we're supposed to be living in the country. That's why we moved out here. Now here comes the city," said Henderson.
Monique Buckmaster, who owns the Red River General Store on Henderson, laments the loss of some of the most fertile farmland in the country. "If nobody stands up for this stuff, we'll all live in a stucco box with nowhere to grow food," said Buckmaster, a proponent of growing locally.
She claims public meetings on the development plan were poorly advertised, which led to sparse attendance. "I run a business in the area and talk to people and no one really knows what's going on," she said. She would like to see a referendum on the development plan.
People also have traffic concerns. The development plan recommends any new construction be set far enough back to allow for possible widening of Henderson Highway to four lanes in the future.
That would require a financial outlay by the province. Unlike Henderson Highway inside Winnipeg, which city taxpayers pay for, RMs don't pay for highways.
RM of St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang said the development plan is merely long-term planning to prepare the community for growth.
"Some people think we're going to be swallowed up tomorrow. It just doesn't happen that way," he said. In fact, the RM is growing by only about 15 new housing starts per year, he said.
"In 20 or 50 years, we will be connected to the city, maybe not lawfully, and we have to plan for it. This isn't happening tomorrow. It's a 25- to 30-year focus. It's a plan so that when density comes, everything fits together like a puzzle."
The plan spares the RM from "hodge-podge" development of "people building homes wherever they want to on their lots," he said. The lot sizes will still be spacious, Strang said. Newer, large-scale developments in Winnipeg range from three to seven homes per .4 hectare, according to the city's information office.
Strang, who sits on the capital region transportation committee, said there is no talk about four-laning Henderson Highway.
Dillon Consulting Ltd. authored the plan. It's actually called a "secondary development plan." It's triggered under the Municipal Act because the RM is getting a sewer line down Henderson Highway that could be a catalyst to future development.
Craig Henderson fears the plan could divide the community into those who want to preserve the area's rural charm and those who have land to subdivide. Some landowners have long, narrow river lots of four to six hectares from the days of market gardening.