A battle over eight metal storage tanks in River Heights may not be over if a company decides to challenge Winnipeg's authority on railway lands.
On Tuesday, council's property and development committee voted to uphold an order that requires Fort Distributors to remove eight metal silos along a stretch of rail line. Property chairman Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said the silos are in a residential area, and the city needs to use its bylaws to prevent larger industrial uses on the land.
Fort Distributors installed the metal silos in September, prompting complaints from neighbours who have called the tanks "ugly" and "monstrous" and said they were placed on land zoned for residential use, not heavy industry. The city ordered the tanks be removed by mid-December, but Fort Distributors appealed the decision.
Fort Distributors is leasing the land from the railway, which they argue the city has no jurisdiction over due to federal transport rules. Winnipeg officials said the tanks are not core to the railway's operations and were erected without the proper permits.
Residents called the committee's decision a victory, but said they would like to find out who is in charge of development on railway land.
"We need to seek clarification on this, because this has a significant impact on the value of our property in the neighbourhood," Alain Vermette said following the committee's decision on Tuesday.
Lawyer Gord Steeves said there is a "fairly good chance" the company will challenge the decision through the courts. He told council's property and development committee the tanks make it easier for Fort Distributors to unload a non-toxic chemical used to reduce dust on gravel roads, which in turn reduces truck traffic and noise in the neighbourhood.
Steeves, a former city councillor, said there may be a way to consult with the community on how the tanks could be configured to mitigate the impact, saying there may be a way to meet the community "halfway." Alternatively, he said, the company may look into getting the proper permits for the tanks, noting they likely won't be removed until the city hears from the railway, which has also been ordered to remove the silos.
"There may be an opportunity to save this, which I believe would be in everybody's interest," Steeves said.
Coun. Justin Swandel (St. Norbert) said the silos have a substantial impact on area residents, but he is concerned it may not be "strategic" to order them removed.
Swandel said Winnipeg may have more control over what happens on that land if it works to mitigate the impact of the storage tanks, rather than if a court rules on the matter based on the legal facts.
River Heights Coun. John Orlikow said the city must not set a precedent that could allow more storage facilities to be built on railway lands within Winnipeg.
"If they can do this, how much more can they be doing?" he said. "It is a serious battle."
Drive-thrus and legal costs
Other developments at council's property and development committee meeting:
Drive-thru window: The committee voted in favour of allowing a drive-thru window at the former Chicken Delight on Corydon Avenue. Moe Investments owns the building at the southeast corner of Corydon and Stafford Street and wants to lease the building to the operator of a Harvey's fast-food restaurant. But Harvey's can't open a drive-thru window at the structure without the city's approval, since new Corydon strip development rules don't allow drive-thrus. An administrative report recommended the city reject the application to allow a drive-thru window. In December, the city centre community committee did not agree and voted to allow the drive-thru. Council's property and development committee also voted in favour of the idea.
Legal costs: Property director Barry Thorgrimson asked the committee to spend an additional $150,000 in its 2013 budget for litigation costs. Thorgrimson said the city is facing a number of legal challenges and the department does not have the operating funds to deal with them. He said the money is required to engage experts in certain fields for litigation. Thorgrimson declined to comment on the specific legal cases for which the funding is needed.