Forces are readying for a fight over a development project in the Exchange District that could forever alter the look of the picturesque riverfront area.
The downtown development committee is hearing an appeal at city hall today for the construction of a 24-storey tower to be built atop the historic James Avenue pumping station.
The city's planning department has approved the project, acknowledging while the scheme violates every regulation of the area's zoning bylaw, the tower is necessary to saving the pumping station.
More than 40 people are scheduled to speak against the project, many of them residents of new condos in the area or developers who built their projects in the neighbourhood according to the city's strict guidelines.
"The city must weigh the value of resurrecting a significant heritage asset against a drastic departure in the built form character of this area," states a civic planning report to the committee. The civic planners said there is no guarantee the interior of the pumping station will be preserved, and the project doesn't provide for parking.
'...I feel the city will have turned its back on those of us who have already bought into the vision of what the East Exchange District can be'
Instead, the proposal hinges on the city and the province building a parkade nearby.
Development in the area is governed by the downtown development bylaw, which limits the height of buildings to eight storeys. Opponents say a 24-storey tower breaches regulations that encourage the development of a low-rise, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood. Many are also concerned about the negative effects created by the shadow from the tower, which they say would blanket neighbouring buildings.
Waterfront Drive resident James Hoddinott said the tower's height and design would work on parcels of land a couple of blocks away, but won't fit in with the drive and won't conform to the strict rules the first generation of waterfront residential developments were forced to follow.
"It will totally change the look and feel of the neighbourhood," he said.
What's needed on Waterfront Drive, and citywide, is a clear, long-term plan that guides development and can't be amended willy-nilly, Hoddinott said.
And if saving the pumphouse is the goal, there are better ways to do it that could pay even more homage to the historical structure, he added.
He said area residents are willing to work to develop the pumphouse, but want to be consulted.
The pumping station is a 107-year-old city-owned facility that was shut down in 1986. Its interior contains six massive engines that used to draw water from the Red River (and later the Shoal Lake aqueduct), providing high-pressure fire protection to the surrounding area. At the time of its construction in 1906, it was considered the most sophisticated facility of its kind in the world. Various proposals to convert the pumping station -- restaurant, brew pub, museum -- have come and gone.
The individual behind the controversial 24-storey tower is Peter Anadranistakis. The tower was designed by architect Sotirios Kotoulas, a former Winnipegger now living in New York. The project involves removing the pumping station's roof and constructing 24 storeys on top of the existing walls; the first two storeys would be commercial/retail, while the remaining 22 floors would house 220 rental units.
Preliminary drawings presented to area residents last summer depict the structure as a glass-and-steel tower, with elevators and mechanical equipment constructed on exterior walls.
"For this building to proceed, I feel the city will have turned its back on those of us who have already bought into the vision of what the East Exchange District can be," said Susan Gilbert, a resident of the adjacent Sky Waterfront condos, in a letter to the city.
The civic planning report states other proposals to save the pumping station failed because they weren't economically viable.
The report states the city believes the developer needs 24 storeys to make the project viable, but also says Anadranistakis did not provide documentation to support the claim the project couldn't be done within the existing requirements, with an eight-storey tower.
The appeal of the tower project is occurring the same day the committee is also reviewing a new riverfront planning document for the entire city. Go to the Waterfront is a 20-year planning strategy to guide development along the Red and Assiniboine rivers.
The strategy focuses on development along 40 kilometres of riverbank that connect six neighbourhoods: Armstrong's Point and Wellington Crescent; Assiniboine Avenue and Osborne Village; St. Boniface and The Forks; Norwood and Riverview; Exchange District and north St. Boniface; Point Douglas, Archibald and Elmwood.
The document envisages development that links the six neighbourhoods through a series of riverfront pathway networks -- scenic drives, paths, sidewalks and pedestrian bridges "to build and celebrate Winnipeg's identity as a river city."
A long-term goal is to extend the linkages to include the city's three regional parks: Kildonan Park, Assiniboine Park and St. Vital Park.
Would a 24-storey tower ruin the character of the Waterfront Drive neighbourhood? Join the conversation in the comments below.