The future of a valuable urban forest is in question, as consultations begin on how to develop a large riverbank property in St. Norbert.
The plot of land sits just south of a bend in the Red River and spans approximately 22 acres between the Behavioural Health Foundation and Laureate Academy, west of Rue la Barriere and north of Lemay Avenue.
The forest of ash, elm, oak and basswood trees could be done away with for condominiums or a care home, or left intact if the City of Winnipeg were to purchase the property, said Donovan Toews.
Toews is a principal of Landmark Planning and Design, which has been brought on by owner Tochal Developments to gather community feedback and consider possible development opportunities.
"It’s the main discussion point right now: could this land be a park? That’s certainly a possible development option," Toews said. "If it were to become a park, there’s a couple of possibilities. One would be the city would have to buy it, or a wealthy benefactor would have to step up to have it converted to park land."
Conversations on the future of the tree stand are in the early stages, Toews added, with the first stakeholder meetings held this week.
"These are difficult sites, and there’s a lot of interest, so we want to be polite and find out what are things people would be concerned about, so that when we draw up possible site plans, we can take those things into account," Toews said.
In 2018, the City of Winnipeg looked into buying the land after Coun. Janice Lukes (then-representing St. Norbert) requested the public service open a dialogue with the property owner. The city’s parks and open space division assessed the tree stand and determined it was an A-B forest, and particularly valuable and worth protecting.
The budget review committee was poised to consider buying the property in the multi-year budget development process, but the land was taken off the market. Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) said the community would like to see the forest maintained as a green space, but has limited means to make a purchase.
"We’re struggling to find dollars for other properties that were on a priority, so to speak, as being previously identified," Chambers said.
The property may also have historical significance, he noted, with a portion of the land possibly being used as a historic cemetery for the orphanage that operated in the Behavioural Health Foundation building. It’s also tucked behind a residential area, diminishing commercial and industrial opportunities, and servicing the site for water and sewage is costly and would require high-density land use.
"There’s all those concerns that trouble me about this going forward, but we’ll have to wait for an application process… and then have the ability to make a decision accordingly," he said.
Danielle Da Silva