Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Developer takes aim at councillor

Says Wyatt's demands threaten housing project

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A Winnipeg residential-housing developer has taken the unusual step of openly criticizing the city -- and Coun. Russ Wyatt in particular -- for delaying the construction of 700 new homes in Transcona.

Since 2007, developer North Grassie Properties, which has built 1,500 Winnipeg homes, has been trying to obtain permission to create a new residential area called Northwoods on 192 acres of vacant land between Cordite Ditch, Gunn Road and the Perimeter Highway. The land was designated for residential development under Our Winnipeg, the city's long-term planning blueprint.

At the behest of two former City of Winnipeg planners, North Grassie Properties put together a subdivision plan for the area and held public meetings in 2011. City property director Barry Thorgrimson then asked the developer to work with seven other area property owners on a more formal precinct plan for the area.

The developer's agent charges that plan was almost complete before Wyatt told the company to go back and work on an even larger secondary plan involving industrial property owners in the nearby Rural Municipality of Springfield.

"We were within days of bringing forward a plan to go to council and all of sudden they want a new one," said Norm Boyle, an agent for Century 21 and a spokesman for North Grassie Properties.

Both of the previous plans, which cost a combined $150,000 to develop, called for what Boyle describes as affordable, starter homes. A public meeting about the development held in January 2011 garnered support from 85 per cent of nearby residents who attended, Boyle said.

Asking for a third plan -- and the approval of industrial-property owners outside the city -- amounts to moving the goalposts for approval, said Boyle, who accused Wyatt of micromanaging development in his ward, driving up the cost of new homes throughout Winnipeg and threatening $80 million worth of development.

"We're so sick of this," Boyle said. "The development-agreement guidelines in this city have been thrown out the door."

Boyle also accused the city of being in a conflict-of-interest position, noting Winnipeg is engaged in a joint development agreement with developer Genstar in another section of Transcona.

"How can you apply in front of your competitors?" he asked.

Boyle said Wyatt informed North Grassie Properties of the need to develop a third plan in early November, days after the Transcona councillor became deputy mayor.

Wyatt rejected the notion he faces any conflict and insisted all developers, including North Grassie Properties and Genstar, are treated equally in Transcona.

The councillor said he, too, is frustrated with the Northwoods delays. But he said the city has legitimate concerns about sufficient water pressure and Winnipeg Transit resources available to service the new area, while Springfield industrial-property owners fear new homes at the edge of Winnipeg could limit their operations.

On Nov. 6, in his last appearance as a member of council's property committee, Wyatt asked city planners to develop a new secondary plan for North Transcona that would involve industrial and residential neighbours.

"What I've suggested now to the public service is that they do something similar to what they're doing in Corydon, and that is get the stakeholders together and come up with a plan which will address legitimate industry concerns," he said.

Boyle said industry already supports the development, as buffers are built into the plan. Springfield should develop its own plan, added John Wiebe, North Grassie Properties' Kelowna-based owner.

"We do not agree with Coun. Wyatt on his request to have the city fund another secondary plan process when one is almost completed," Wiebe said in an email to Wyatt, Thorgrimson, Mayor Sam Katz and other city officials. "We see this as a waste of city staff time and a total waste of city money to provide a secondary plan that should be prepared and funded by the RM of Springfield."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2012 B1

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