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This article was published 19/9/2017 (1106 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The merits of two downtown gravel parking lots were the focus of appeal hearings at city hall Tuesday.
There was good news for the non-profit group that manages the country’s only downtown provincial park, Upper Fort Garry, which was allowed to keep operating its illegal gravel parking lot for two more years while fundraising and planning are finalized for its $17-million interpretive centre.
The non-profit Friends of Upper Fort Garry was told it could keep operating the gravel parking lot for another two years, on condition it install some movable shrubbery along Fort Street and provide one parking space for an accessibility van.
Jerry Gray, chairman of the Friends board, said the group needs the revenue from the parking lot to cover the park's operating costs while it continues fundraising for its planned $17-million, 40,000-square-foot interpretative centre. Gray said he hopes construction of the first phase of the facility will start in the spring and the entire complex completed in four years.
The parking lot is considered illegal because gravel surface parking lots are no longer permitted in the downtown area.
But the committee decided what was acceptable for the Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park did not pass muster for 201 Portage Avenue.
The news wasn’t so good for the owner of the 33-storey 201 Portage Ave. office tower, which lost its appeal to expand its existing gravel parking lot and use the revenue from the new stalls to pay for $250,000 worth of landscaping improvements along Main Street.
Councillors on the property and development committee, which acts as the appeal body for property owners whose applications for a zoning variance have been denied by the city’s planning staff, were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the non-profit Friends of Upper Fort Garry, but insisted on a higher standard for Harvard Developments, which owns 201 Portage.
"I would hope that a property owner in a location like this would want their property to look attractive," said Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, when explaining why she proposed the motion to reject the appeal from Harvard.
It was the proximity of Harvard’s vacant lots to Portage and Main that prompted the councillors to demand the firm do more for the property.
Harvard has two vacant lots that front on Main Street, adjacent to its office tower, between Portage and McDermot Avenue — one is a legal, non-conforming parking lot, the other is simply an empty gravel lot.
The firm wants, on a temporary basis for up to five years, to expand parking into the adjacent lot and use the additional revenue from the 36 new stalls to pay for the cost of landscaping the front edging of both properties, replacing the existing wooden fence with shrubbery and a retaining wall made up decorative loose stone.
Harvard's representatives said the firm eventually plans to redevelop the vacant lots but it needs more time to determine what would be marketable.
The harshest criticism of the proposal came from ward Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, who said he expects more from the owner of property at the city’s iconic intersection.
Pagtakhan, who is not a member of the committee, was critical of Harvard for not improving the appearance of the existing gravel parking lot. He said the firm hadn’t consulted him on its plans and dismissed its proposal as insufficient.
"This is prime real estate, a stone’s throw from Portage and Main," Pagtakhan told the committee. "It could be a great park, it could have benches, it could have a performance area, it could have trees, a huge garden… a public garden.
"When you see a parking desert in the middle of our downtown, it’s the wrong message and will have an adverse affect."
Jim Moore, senior property manager for 201 Portage, told the committee the building owner is under no obligation to upgrade the existing gravel parking lot and would not be able to do so without the new revenue, adding that the committee was rejecting "a gift" by voting against the proposal.
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