Property committee knocks down rezoning waiver fee exemption pitch
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The owner of an Osborne Village convenience store has lost her attempt to have the city waive a $20,242 rezoning bill, which she deemed a major financial hurdle to rebuilding after a fatal fire.
On Thursday, council’s property and development committee cast a final 2-2 vote (a tie that equates to a loss at city hall) to reject the request from Hae-Kyung (Heather) Shin, who hoped it would set her on an affordable path to reopen E-Mart Groceries.
The family-owned store at 157 Scott St. suffered extensive damage in an alleged arson that claimed the life of Shin’s sister-in-law, 60-year-old Jung Ja Shin, in August 2021. (Soon after, Douglas Wayne Last was charged with manslaughter and arson.)
Shin said she was hopeful the fees would be waived, and isn’t sure if she can find an affordable way to develop the property without the exemption.
“I was very disappointed and I couldn’t understand why that result came that way… If the city would let me go ahead and waive that $20,000, than I wouldn’t (have to) think of any other way to go ahead. But right now, I have no income anymore because my income was from the E-Mart,” she said.
The E-Mart was in place for decades as a mixed-use residence and business, despite the fact its land was zoned for residential use. After the fire destroyed the building, Shin was informed she’d need to complete a rezoning process to resume previous operations.
Since she also expects to pay tens of thousands of dollars more to upgrade the store to meet current City of Winnipeg bylaws, Shin said she’s not immediately sure what her next steps will be. She is considering creating two residential units at the site instead of the store to avoid the rezoning fees.
However, she believes many neighbours support the business resuming operations at the site.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, who lobbied her council colleagues to waive the fee, said she was shocked the request was not approved.
“I was disappointed, and I know what the (decision) means for the economics of the development and the convenience store (Shin) was trying to rebuild on behalf of a community that really wanted it,” said Rollins. “I felt that the opposing rationale was weak and just the wrong decision for Winnipeg, socially and economically.”
At the committee meeting, Couns. Janice Lukes and Kevin Klein opposed the fee waiver, while Couns. Vivian Santos and Cindy Gilroy supported it.
Klein said he was touched by the personal story linked to the request but believes the city must be consistent in imposing fees and ensure all applicants are treated equally.
“It’s very easy for politicians, especially during an election time (Winnipeg’s civic election is Oct. 26), to make decisions based on emotion or fear based on what might be said in the media… But what do we say to somebody else who’s in the same position or (others) who start coming on a regular basis (asking for the same thing)? My heart goes out to the family, it’s a sad story. But at the end of the day, the city is a corporation and there’s a fee for services,” Klein said.
Lukes said she also rejected the request for fear of opening the floodgates to future waiver requests.
“Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot of arson problems, a lot of fires that are set… (and) the pandemic has wiped out businesses,” said Lukes. “When you allow one (fee waiver), how do you say no to 50 others?”
The Waverly West councillor said she’s also not convinced the city can afford to set such a precedent. “The city is in one of the worst, dire financial positions it’s been in in decades.”
Gilroy, who voted in favour, said the fact the business would still be running, if not for the fire, swayed her decision. “I think that our job is always case by case… and sometimes these things are going to warrant (an exception).”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.