A fraternal duo of Winnipeg developers hope to turn a five-acre strip of riverside land in St. Vital’s Minnetonka neighbourhood into luxury rental residences for the 50-plus crowd — but in order to do it, they’ll need to reassure a community already spooked by heavy traffic.
Brothers Louis and Jason Pereira co-own Sherwood Developments (2016) Ltd., the next generation of the family business founded by their father Fausto Pereira. The Pereira family has experience building other 50-plus developments in Winnipeg, including The Enclave in South St. Vital, and the brothers are currently finishing Vista 429, a 170-unit luxury apartment complex in Southdale.
Their plan for the land at 260 River Rd. involves a partly-vacant parcel that includes adjoining properties at 252 River Rd., 256 River Rd. and 81 Blackmore Ave. They envision building 128 one- and two-bedroom units across twin four-storey structures, which will require rezoning the land.
Louis Pereira said he has met with a variety of city departments to start laying the groundwork for a successful rezoning application. St. Vital city councillor Brian Mayes is aware of the project and has already heard from constituents.
"I would say the main issue that people have raised is traffic," said Mayes.
"The proposed development is far enough back from most of the neighbouring houses that height hasn’t really come up much, (and) there’s no gravel back lanes, the issue that haunts me north of Bishop Grandin, that’s not an issue here... But certainly traffic has been a big concern."
The plot of land in question runs from the east bank of the Red River eastward to River Road, parallel to the south side of Bishop Grandin Boulevard just past the Fort Garry Bridge. Traffic tends to get bottled up at the intersection where River Road meets Bishop Grandin, a problem Mayes said is compounded by the many workers who rely on River Road to commute to the nearby St. Amant Centre.
"That does seem like prime land that could be developed, but how do we balance that with the interests of the community?" asked Mayes.
In 2001, local residents’ worries about increased traffic on River Road were the nail in the coffin for a plan to build a major YMCA athletic facility on the site. More than 900 people signed petitions against that project, and more than 500 showed up for a raucous public hearing during which a YMCA board president was reportedly shouted down by the crowd.
Mindful of the community’s traffic concerns, Louis Pereira said he and his brother went to great lengths to invite the neighbourhood to a January 14 open house to discuss the project, erecting a large billboard on the property and delivering 300 invitations to nearby homes.
Pereira said 91 people showed up to the open house, and he’s confident he won over at least some of them — roughly 25 residents even signed letters of support for the project, he said.
"What we’re proposing — a low density, senior-adult complex — really is the best-case scenario for a community that has concerns on traffic," said Pereira.
The median age of residents at other senior-adult Winnipeg apartment complexes built by the Pereira family is 72 years old, he said. Most of them are retired, and tend to avoid going out during rush hour. A traffic engineer hired by the Pereiras to estimate the project’s impact found that the development would generate 26 extra trips during the morning rush hour, and 34 during the afternoon rush.
"We are proposing something that has a very minimal impact on traffic during those periods of time... We’ve got to realize that yes, this is over four acres of developable land in a desirable area," said Pereira.
"It’s riverfront property, and it’s privately owned. To think that this is just going to be converted into a park, or that this is going to just stay vacant forever, is not a realistic view of how the world goes."
Pereira argues that the 128-unit project is relatively low density, with twelve fewer units than their desired zoning classification would allow. The adult residents wouldn’t put any strain on nearby schools, he says.
To sweeten the deal, the proposed landscaping plan offers what Pereira described as "almost unheard-of amounts of green space for any modern development," with most parking hidden away underground and plenty of new trees. The plan also calls for connecting the Bishop Grandin Greenway trail southward across the property to Blackmore Ave.
Census figures show a significant population of older residents in Minnetonka, and Pereira said that demographic drives demand for his company’s senior-adult residences.
"A lot of people don’t really want to tie up their equity into buying a condo that’s going to be almost the same price as their home, and kind of be house-poor, especially at that stage in their lives," he said.
Pereira said his adult tenants aren’t transient, and take a great deal of pride in their rented homes.
"Call them renters, but they’re a lot more like condo owners."
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.