Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No plans in place for unsightly weed field

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A prominent downtown riverfront property in the shadow of Government House and the Legislative Building has become an unsightly field of weeds in violation of a city bylaw.

A member of the family that owns the vacant double lot, formerly home to the Chelsea Court apartments, says there are no plans for its development.

"We just don't know what to do with it right now," Alan Werier said in a telephone interview.

In a controversial move five years ago, the Chelsea Court's landlords evicted tenants from the aging cluster of two-and-a-half-storey buildings on the north bank of the Assiniboine River.

The complex was once on a city buildings inventory list, meaning it couldn't be demolished without city council approval. Its threatened destruction sparked outrage from past and present tenants as well as heritage proponents.

But council agreed with an owners' representative that the buildings were falling apart and couldn't be saved, and allowed the demolition to proceed. The units sat boarded up for some time until the owners demolished them last year.

Since the owners had no immediate plans to rebuild on the site, the city required them to level the land and apply sod. That was never done.

Asked about the condition of the property, Werier noted that the city had not been "bugging" him about it.

Pressed on the requirement to install sod, he told a reporter: "You go sod it yourself if you want to sod it. I don't know what to tell you."

One commercial real estate agent said this week that the large river lot could be worth $500,000 to $750,000 to an apartment or condominium developer, depending on the number of units that could be built on the site.

Martin Grady, a city zoning and permits administrator, said his department will be pursuing the matter.

He said the owners begged off placing sod last year, saying it was too late in the season.

"We are pursuing it with the owners and we'll see what we can get done there," Grady said.

If the owners don't respond to a written order, the city can take legal action, he said, although rarely does the city need to take that step.

Jenny Gerbasi, the area's city councillor, had opposed council's decision to allow the owners to tear down the apartment complex.

"I was strongly against the delisting of the Chelsea Courts and felt council made a really bad mistake in allowing them to be demolished with no development plan for something new to happen other than (the land) being sodded," she said.

Unfortunately, she said, the property has been left vacant, as many people had predicted when the owners were given permission to tear down the apartment complex.

Land titles and corporations branch searches show the property is owned by Composite Holdings Ltd. The company's directors are listed as Barbara, Joel and Alan Werier.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2009 B1

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