Housing takes root
Affordable apartments slated for site of former community garden in West Broadway
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2020 (636 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Sometimes, opportunity is right under your nose. In the case of Monteyne Architecture Works Inc., it was right outside the window.
The street-facing side of the firm’s sleek, wedge-shaped Sherbrook Street offices is mostly made of glass, with the word “Architecture” spelled out across the windows. By the final “e,” the view from inside consists of an empty lot and erstwhile community garden. Soon, that lot will begin a transformation into something desperately needed in West Broadway: new affordable housing.
There hasn’t been any housing on the lot for nearly 30 years, since a pair of houses were demolished there. By 2022, Monteyne associate Fletcher Noonan says that will change, when a five-storey building with 28 units, six of which will be capped at or below 30 per cent of the neighbourhood’s median household income, will be available to rent.
“We feel strongly that we want to develop the neighbourhood and help bring life to the street,” he said. It’s been a long time coming.
Since the pair of houses were demolished, the site has gone through various cycles of trying to get it to that point, says Greg MacPherson, the executive director of the West Broadway Community Organization.
In the 1990s, the land’s then-owner allowed community members to garden on the plot. When the owner wanted to sell, the gardeners were approached to see if they’d be interested in buying it, but they couldn’t afford it. The owner then came to the West Broadway Community Organization, which received a provincial grant that allowed it to purchase the land.
The grant stipulated that the organization hold broad community consultation on future use. By 2008, after some internal turnover, the organization held an extensive design charet, and community stakeholders determined the best use for the land would be in a mixed use capacity, with partly affordable housing and commercial entities, along with some form of green space or community gathering area.
“That’s a tall order for a non-profit,” said MacPherson, who became executive director in 2011. Shortly after that, the organization put out a request for proposals, and a partnership was struck with the non-profit Westminster Housing Society.
The groups worked together for several years, but MacPherson said at the time, the provincial government hadn’t shown as much eagerness to develop affordable housing, and the federal government didn’t have funding programs available that allowed for such developments to move forward either.
By 2017, West Broadway, which still owned the land, was growing exceedingly frustrated by the challenges in securing funding from either level of government, still paying taxes and maintaining the land, and the board decided to sell it, MacPherson said. They put out feelers to neighbouring property owners, and Monteyne, which has found a niche as a designer and developer of infill property, put out the best offer.
Earlier this year, the sale was made official, and West Broadway Community Organization is using the funds to reinvest into a project of its own at 545 Broadway, where it’s headquartered.
“Seeing (the Sherbrook project) go forward is a great victory for our community,” MacPherson said. “There’s a huge desire and great need for affordable housing, especially affordable rental housing, in this neighbourhood.”
The project at Sherbrook will echo the wedge-style shape of Monteyne’s offices, with a modern aesthetic that uses nail-laminated timber construction, Noonan said. The majority of the units will be two-bedroom rentals, and Noonan said all units will be adaptable to barrier-free standards.
One element that’s particularly intriguing is the sidewalk-abutting seating shown in early renderings of the project. In these renderings, the seating looks like the opposite of hostile, with plenty of room for separate conversations and coffee breaks.
Between the building and the seating is space for a patio for a potential tenant, or tenants, of the 4,000 square-feet of commercial space on the main floor. (Early renderings circulated online showed on the space a sign for popular Exchange District restaurant Deer + Almond, though Noonan said that was just an example of the type of business that could fit in well.)
Noonan said the city has granted Monteyne necessary approvals for a spring groundbreaking, and city planners and councillors have enthusiastically received the design.
Over the last few years, a few other residential buildings with affordable units (the Downtown Commons, Muse Flats, the Sherbrook Flats) have been added, he said. More, including the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation 2.0’s development at the corner of Colony Street and Broadway, and a development next to the Misericordia Hospital, are on the way.
“I think this is a good time for us, and West Broadway,” MacPherson said. “It’s been a challenging couple of decades in terms of losing affordability, and having more affordable housing added to the stock is critically important.”
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.