St. Boniface trail users on edge over riverbank obstacle erected by landowner
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Mick Rice checks his footing twice before peering over the riverbank’s steep and slippery edge; the Red River rushes by 20 feet below.
“You’re likely to fall in the river and never get out. That’s why I said it’s a booby-trap; it’s deliberate,” Rice said as he gestures toward a large steel shipping container that blocks the path of a river trail behind a St. Boniface business.
At some point in the last few months, the owner of 865 Tache Ave., at the northernmost point of Tache, moved the container here to prevent people from crossing the path, he said.
“You’re likely to fall in the river and never get out. That’s why I said it’s a booby-trap; it’s deliberate.” – Mick Rice
The City of Winnipeg said the owner has the right to do so and hasn’t broken any law.
Rice was one of several people who reported the obstacle to 311 in June, but after city inspectors looked at the trail, they determined the container was located on private property, city spokesperson Ken Allen said.
The city does not officially recognize the trail, but it is well known in the community, said St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard, who has fielded several complaints from constituents regarding the blocked path.
“I’ve used that trail personally, and I think it’s really unfortunate it’s been disconnected,” he said. “There are examples across St. Boniface where… owners allow for the use of these informal trails on their property.”
The blocked trail is emblematic of a larger battle being waged for the north St. Boniface riverbank.
The City of Winnipeg can’t fully implement a secondary plan for the area — which would rezone the riverbank for parks and open space — because there are pockets of privately owned properties next to the river.
Under the plan, Whittier Park, Parc Elzéar Goulet, Parc Joseph Royal and Lagimodière-Gaboury Park could be connected by a continuous, city-maintained path along the river.
City council approved the secondary plan in 2017, and new developments must comply with the zoning bylaws. However, certain properties were grandfathered, allowing them to keep their original zoning.
In the case of the Tache property, it is zoned as industrial and encompasses the land on the riverbank.
While the city could expropriate portions of private land along the river and convert them for public use, the process is complicated, expensive and would require support from the planning committee and community at large, Allard said.
“So far, I’ve only seen expropriation used to build road projects,” he said. “Things can get quite expensive without the consent of a land owner.”
Allard said that until landowners choose to sell or develop those properties, the city cannot force them to accommodate a river path.
Still, the councillor holds out hope that the north St. Boniface riverbank may one day be unified.
The secondary plan reserves most of the neighbourhood as a residential area, so rising property values might give industrial land owners incentive to sell.
“The way for that to happen is for people to come forward and (buy) these properties and then redevelop them in line with what the city’s plans are proposing,” Allard said. “The pressure is building… it’s prime (residential) land… adjacent to downtown (with) a beautiful skyscape.”
For now, the north St. Boniface riverbank remains disconnected, and the trail behind Tache Avenue will stay blocked.
“If the landowner is reading this, I would ask them to consider if there’s any other option,” Allard said. “To remove the container would really be appreciated by the community.”
“If the landowner is reading this, I would ask them to consider if there’s any other option… To remove the container would really be appreciated by the community.” – St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard
Rice, who wants the container removed regardless of who owns the property, has little time for the politics behind the situation.
“I saw a runner go under there once, and she nearly slipped and went in… and there’s no reason for that,” he said. “The fact that nobody wants to do anything about it, I find that really scary.”
The owner of the Tache property did not respond to requests for comment about the shipping container. The Free Press did connect with staff from the business located there, who said they rent the space and have no control over the container placement.