Winnipeggers who are lobbying the city to ban the redevelopment of major public parks and open spaces fear the city is offering a path for new builds.
"We just cannot afford to lose any of the ones that we have," said Michele Kading, executive director of Save Our Seine, a group that works to preserve the Seine River and surrounding natural areas. "It (could) lock us in to having less green space then we should have, in light of a growing population."
Kading said Complete Communities 2.0, a draft citywide secondary plan, outlines a path for such development. It does include a goal to "designate and retain lands identified as major public open space for recreational uses and the preservation of natural habitat," referring to spaces that include forests, parks and golf courses. But it also notes parameters to redevelop such land and proposes a simpler process for development that requires less than two acres.
"To allow development proposals to come forward acre by acre, what you’re allowing is a gradual eating away of the green spaces around the edges," said Kading.
She stressed that Winnipeg needs to push for more green space instead, noting these areas have proven extremely popular during the pandemic.
"The few spaces we have now…. are overcrowded with people using them," said Kading. "Recreational value aside, they have intrinsic value and ecological value."
A Save Our Seine petition that demands city council prevent the development of parks and open spaces had gathered more than 3,000 signatures by Friday.
Ron Mazur, a co-chair of Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces Winnipeg, said Complete Communities and a draft of the city’s master development plan, OurWinnipeg 2045, should pledge to preserve all of the open spaces.
"We’re talking about two major planning documents that do not have a vision for green space in the future and that’s a major, major gap," said Mazur. "We have to take steps to increase the amount of green space and park lands that we have available for future generations."
Coun. Brian Mayes, who has shared concerns that Complete Communities defines the Bois-des-Esprits and Assiniboine forests as "settlement areas," said he’s not surprised by the opposition.
"I don’t blame people for being concerned… We should value the green space differently than housing," said Mayes.
However, city planners note the new version of Complete Communities would require more steps to approve such developments than the city’s current process.
Presently, a developer must obtain council approval for an amendment to the city’s Complete Communities plan and a rezoning application to redevelop such a space.
If approved, the new rules would keep those steps and require a secondary plan.
"The intent behind the new policies was to actually provide stronger policy language for the protection of major public open space," said Michael Robinson, the city’s Complete Communities lead.
"It’s a very thorough process that the city would want to go through to evaluate these areas before we would even consider anything for re-designation," he said.
Robinson said planners will ask council’s executive policy committee to amend the proposal to address some of the community concerns.
The current draft states open space developments of less than two acres could occur without an amendment or secondary plan. But Robinson said planners will ask council to change that so one-acre proposals require the amendment and two-acre sites require both.
Robinson said it’s up to city council to determine if it wants prevent the redevelopment of green spaces altogether.
He said adding a secondary plan component for most projects is a significant change, since that requires a natural area inventory, public engagement and a tree preservation report, among several other steps.
"There’s a lot of review and analysis and the policies are first and foremost really intended to protect and preserve as much open space as possible," said Robinson.
EPC is scheduled to hold a public hearing on strategy on May 13.
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.