The ongoing saga of a proposed residential complex in Transcona reached an emotional crescendo at Friday’s meeting of the East Kildonan-Transcona community committee, which ultimately approved a variance for the project with added traffic calming and safety considerations.
On Nov. 22, the committee held a marathon meeting and public hearing that lasted nearly eight hours, with much of the conversation centred on rezoning, subdivision, and variances for the development at 307 and 311 Grassie Blvd., a project that had already been scaled back from 120 units on six storeys to 72 units on four owing to community feedback.
The bulk of the opposition from community members concerned the potential impact on traffic at the development site, just east of Lagimodiere Boulevard, and the proposal’s single entry and exit way, which residents figured would lead to snarls on Grassie. Those concerns dovetailed with fears over pedestrian safety, some residents said.
At that meeting, Russ Wyatt, the former area councillor, now working as a consultant for the property owner, presented an independent study that found the development would have negligible impacts on traffic volumes. He told those in attendance that the project had "the essence of a good infill project" and would densify the community, the Canstar publication the Herald reported.
Unable to reach a decision that day, the final decision was tabled until last week, and residents — as evidenced by nearly 40 communications of opposition received by the committee — were still largely skeptical.
Hearing those concerns, the department of public works reviewed the initial traffic memo, city land development engineer Daniel Trenchard told the committee, and there was consensus that a secondary entry point on Jacques Avenue would be necessary to reduce traffic on Grassie during peak periods. The developer was "agreeable" to that secondary access point, Trenchard said.
Current Transcona councillor Shawn Nason asked what would be done to address safety concerns related to the influx of vehicular traffic, and Trenchard said that amendments had been proposed by the public service to add traffic calming elements, including multiple speed tables or speed bumps, to reduce speeding at several points along Jacques to the satisfaction of the director of public works and at no expense to the city. An application for a separate permit for a private approach would be required from the developer.
The committee, composed of Nason, Elmwood-East Kildonan councillor Jason Schreyer, and North Kildonan councillor Jeff Browaty, ultimately voted in favour of those measures related to the variance, which will move forward for approval from larger council bodies. Nason noted he would be surprised if, given the opposition from community members, the decision was not appealed.
In giving his supporting reasons for the decision, Nason became emotional, calling it a "very difficult consideration" as he understands the level of concern from those community members. "I’ve heard the public with regards to their concerns about traffic, and I hope what we get is a stronger Jacques Avenue and a stronger neighbourhood." He added later that the decision would improve neighbourhood safety.
"This was not a rubber stamp. This was not a done deal," he continued. "I see hurtful, attacking comments of us (councillors) in regards to these (decisions). They’re unfounded, and uncalled for. We are people that are elected to do a job, and I don’t take bribes. I’m not in the pocket of developers, and I damn well get ticked off when people make those allegations," he said, adding that he would seek legal action with individuals who make such comments.
"This incident, with regards to this development, has shown what consultation — whether you like the outcome or not — there’s consultation," he added. "This developer heard from the residents and lowered their expectations considerably. They worked hard with the public service to find common ground."
Nason "did not want to open Jacques," he added. "I wanted to contain this solely to Grassie, But listening to traffic concerns, listening to neighbourhood concerns, this was the only way forward."
"You can appeal the variance," he added. "I have done my job, and it damn well hurts."
Responding to Nason’s remarks, Schreyer said he empathized with what Nason was saying, and that while he doesn’t blame people for being suspicious or curious about the system, he believed it was a reality of their jobs that city councillors become targets for all those concerns and scrutiny. They "take the brunt" for inadequacies in the entire system and any decisions made within that system.
"We end up being the outlet for it, and it’s truly unfortunate, but Coun. Nason, I’m glad you said what you did," Schreyer added. "It’s important, and the struggle is going to continue, but I think it’s important what you said."
Nason expects the committee’s decision to head to council in January.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.