One property nearly traded in an infamous fire hall land swap years ago is at the centre of a debate over green space versus development.
Council’s property and development committee couldn’t reach a consensus on the proposed sale of vacant land at 409 Mulvey Ave. E. on Tuesday; its members were divided over calls to keep the riverside property for future parks space.
A new proposal seeks council approval to sell vacant land at the site for $1.5 million, where Albatross Development Ltd. hopes to build an 80-unit housing development, with 25 per cent of the homes devoted to affordable housing.
The debate began after Winnipegger Shirley Forsyth reminded the committee the lot has long been envisioned to become green space and part of a potential waterfront trail network.
"It is hard to fathom how park land… will be made surplus and sold without any discussion or consultation on the necessity of this property in Winnipeg’s park’s system," wrote Forsyth, in a written presentation to the committee.
In 2012, the Mulvey land, along with former fire halls at Grosvenor Avenue and Berry Street, was tentatively traded without council approval for land at 1780 Taylor Ave., where the city wound up building a fire-paramedic station on land it did not yet own. The three-for-one land swap was cancelled in 2012. An audit found the swap was mismanaged and broke city rules.
The current proposal would sell off a former parking lot area at the Mulvey site, while the city would keep a nearby bike path and a riverside police patrol compound.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, whose ward includes the land, said she’d prefer it remain designated for a park but doesn’t oppose the development itself.
"My preference was that it (stay) park land. (But) I’m also not immediately opposed to a development that has affordable housing," Rollins said.
She urged the development committee, of which Rollins is not a member, to ensure money earned from the potential sale adds to the city’s land dedication reserve, which is used to buy and improve land for parks, recreation and community use. A past council vote earmarked the proceeds to instead offset the cost to buy 1780 Taylor Ave.
Coun. Janice Lukes called on her development committee colleagues to reject the sale, noting an unused gravel lot at the site could be converted into prime green space.
"I really feel that riverbank property is at a premium in the city. It’s extremely valuable... this provides an opportunity to have green space," said Lukes.
That motion was defeated in a two-two vote, since a tied vote amounts to a loss. Lukes and Kevin Klein supported it, while Cindy Gilroy and Vivian Santos opposed it.
Santos said she supported the plan to preserve the bike path space and pursue infill development.
"I think this looks like a great project. I’m very interested in having that balance between green space… and affordable housing," she said.
Santos raised a motion to approve the sale, which also lost in a tied vote. Santos and Gilroy supported it, while Lukes and Klein opposed it.
Her motion also called for the city to ensure the project’s proceeds would add to the land dedication reserve, instead of offsetting the Taylor Avenue costs.
The committee’s lack of a decision means the proposal will move on to council’s executive policy committee with no recommendation.
The sale would require support from two-thirds of council, since the site is considered park land.
Albatross Development did not speak at Tuesday’s committee meeting.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.