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This article was published 9/2/2017 (1072 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A residents group with a history of taking city hall to the Supreme Court said it’s considering legal action after a civic committee Thursday dismissed an appeal against a seven-storey, 78-unit condominium project on the banks of the Red River on land the city has conditionally sold to the developer.
Walter Kleinschmit, vice president of the Old St. Boniface Residents Association, said a legal challenge is one option the group will consider to stop the Tache Avenue development from proceeding.
Kleinschmit, a real estate consultant working primarily in the Middle East, said he and area residents are frustrated over the way the Sunstone Resort Communities project was treated by several civic committees and the city’s planning staff despite overwhelming opposition from area residents, who said the project doesn’t conform with the official planning document for the area, the St. Boniface secondary plan.
Kleinschmit said he suspects the city politicians and staff have been in a conflict of interest throughout the appeal process, explaining that the land was offered for sale in such a manner as to suggest the city’s zoning regulations would be easily amended to suit the winning developer’s designs.
"I’m quite shocked that something as important as this was decided without the committee members taking the time to read our substantial (11-page) submission," Kleinschmit told reporters following the conclusion of the hearing before council’s appeal committee. "We take the position the city is acting possibly illegally or incorrectly against the intentions of the secondary plan."
Sunstone Resort Communities is planning a mixed-use residential and commercial development on a vacant piece of land that once had been the St. Boniface public works yard. The property is located at the north end of Tache, north of the CN Rail Redditt line, known as the High Line, between Rue Hebert and Rue Darveau. The land was declared surplus in 2014 and the city issued an expression of interest to groups interested in redeveloping the property. Council ultimately opted for Sunstone’s project, and a purchase price of $2 million.
City staff told the committee that the sale to Sunstone has not been completed.
The proposal includes the construction of two, two-storey mixed-use buildings fronting on Tache, with the seven-storey tower behind the smaller buildings, parallel to the river for almost the entire one-block width of the property. Council approved rezoning for the project in November.
The plan calls for the retention of some riverbank land as a linear public park and Sunstone has committed to landscaping its portion of riverbank property in a park-like setting.
Thursday's hearing dealt with residents’ objections to a series of variances to the site design, which effectively pushed the buildings to the edge of the property lines, allowing for fewer parking spaces than required.
The project has the support of the city planning department and has been been approved at every political level, with the support of area councillor Matt Allard.
The committee dismissed the appeal, citing the administration’s support for the variances as necessary and that the project met all the city’s planning objectives, is compatible with the neighbourhood and does not create a substantial adverse effect on the neighbourhood.
Sunstone CEO Bill Coady said he is now focused on marketing the project, declining further comment.
The residents association is known as a powerful lobby group. Its former presidents include MP Dan Vandal, former premier Greg Selinger and Allard. The organization challenged the city’s decision on another residential development almost 40 years ago and took it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1980, which sided with the residents. That fight resulted in an overhaul of the city’s public approvals process.
The residents and the residents association oppose the seven-storey block, not the two smaller buildings. They say the building is too big for the site and too tall for the neighbourhood. The maximum height of other residential buildings on the street is four stories.
Some residents are upset that the city put the land for sale, stating that there had been a decade’s old commitment that the entire parcel would eventually be redeveloped as park land.
Residents at the hearing said the site was approved even though it doesn’t accommodate access for fire trucks, ambulances, and garbage and recycling vehicles, doesn’t make provisions for the location of waste and recycling containers, and the buildings will be constructed too close to the busy CN rail line, which would pose a threat to future residents in the event of a derailment or other related incident.
Others said the seven-story condo building would effectively block the view of the river and the downtown skyline from other residents living in the neighbourhood.
The committee was told by the planning department that the project design faced no objections from any civic department but there were no written reports supporting that position.
Allard said he continues to support the project despite the resident opposition, explaining it’s necessary to give the community a variety of residential options and will help to develop a vibrant, pedestrian atmosphere to the neighbourhood.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.