A Fort Richmond property owner’s plans to redevelop his residential lot into a unique "bare land" condominium project hit an unexpected snag at city council’s appeals committee last week, with a small group of trees standing in the way.
For more than 50 years, the property at 80 Kings Dr., has been in David Whitmore’s family, he told the appeals committee. A few years ago, when his parents moved into assisted living, Whitmore and his wife bought the property — a sizable lot just west of the Red River featuring a single detached home — with the goal of turning it into a place to age in place for seniors looking to downsize.
"It’s our intention to stay in this community as long as we can," Whitmore said, adding that extensive door-to-door communication showed like-minded neighbours want to do the same. As of 2016, about one-third of Fort Richmond’s population was over the age of 50.
Enlisting registered planners at local firm Richard+Wintrup, the property owners developed plans to expand the two-acre parcel’s residential capacity by turning it into a "bare land" condominium or "cottage court" project, with four smaller detached timber-frame condo units sharing amenities like a common driveway ("auto court") or green space, as well as maintenance costs. The units would be two-storey cottages small enough to fit on the parcel, one of the largest lots in the area. The owners also own a house farther down the road.
In R1L lots, such projects are allowed under city bylaws and plans to include up to four primary condo units, meaning no rezoning was required. The cottage court concept is not a new idea, but it’s gaining momentum in North America as a residential option with added community feel.
"We think this would make a great improvement to the area. This is a large lot, and it’s a way to create a very context-sensitive infill project," said Matthew Robinson, a registered planner with Richard+Wintrup.
To allow for the project to occur without exceeding the floodline, a variance to reduce front-yard size from 71 feet to 39 was sought by the owners and later approved by the city’s planning division, but several opponents appealed the decision: many assumed "condominium" meant a standard apartment-style building and that "auto court" meant parking lot, or they feared an influx of traffic, an opening of the floodgates to future developments, an incongruence with the neighbourhood’s scale, or the uproot of mature trees and root systems that a decreased front yard might cause.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) clarified that the project itself wasn’t up for appeal, the setback was.
The property straddles the floodway line, with thickets of trees between it and the Red River, preventing the project from going in that direction and requiring it to move forward toward Kings Drive. Whitmore and Richard+Wintrup’s Robinson both said those trees would be protected and preserved in the development.
But the trees separating the property from the main thoroughfare, some of which might need to be removed for the development to occur, proved to be a sticking point: When it approved the variance, the city’s administration didn’t request an arborist’s report, meaning information crucial to the project’s approval was not required to be collected or submitted.
"I’m not sure how I can support this without knowing how many trees would be removed," said Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry). "I may be supporting ripping down 10 mature oak trees that are incredibly valuable to the City of Winnipeg. It may be two trees, and they’re spruces. Meh, then I may be OK. But I don’t know any of this."
Orlikow motioned to lay the appeal over until an arborist’s report could be produced. The committee voted unanimously in favour of the motion, with an arborist’s report required by April 22.
"It’s a very good development plan and a wonderful concept," said Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan). The main concern was that it’s applied carefully, he said.
With the appeal delayed, Robinson reiterated that the concept would respect the neighbourhood’s context and provide high-quality dwellings geared toward aging in place, with beautiful landscaping and respect for the natural surroundings.
"While we have followed the City of Winnipeg’s requirements for our application process and engaged thoroughly with the public service in this matter, we respect the committee’s decision and will return with the requested documents at our next appeal committee hearing," he added.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.