This is the first part of a two-part series on development challenges in St. James. Read the WAA’s reaction in part 2 here.
A battle is brewing between two major developers and the city’s airport authority — and it’s putting hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.
On one side is Shindico Development and Cadillac Fairview, the owner of Polo Park Shopping Centre. The two developers have teamed up and are hoping to build a sprawling commercial and residential series of highrise and low-rise buildings near the mall.
But the Winnipeg Airport Authority says allowing more residential construction in the area would impact its ability to do business and increase potential noise complaints when it expands. The WAA wants to add a third runway to expand the lucrative freight sector.
For two years, the developers have been trying to get their proposal in front of a city committee and show city councillors what they believe the future of the area could hold — a mixed-use space for Winnipeggers to live, work and play in.
“We have the opportunity to do something really bold and we hope that we have the opportunity to do that without government funding, without any government help … but just to develop,” Shindico president and CEO Sandy Shindleman told Global News.
The plan could see apartment buildings around the perimeter of the mall, parking structures, office spaces and possibly assisted living units for seniors, Shindleman said.
“An exciting urban mixed-use project that provides retail, that supports the retail and supports living or jobs.”
The developers are looking to not just revamp the area, but to re-imagine the possibilities of the 80-acre parcel of land around Polo Park, from the north side of Portage Avenue, along St. Matthews Avenue and St. James Street and the west side of Empress Street.
“What you see at these sites is almost every spare square foot is able to be used for something if you allow that density,” Shindico’s Lawyer Justin Zarnowski said.
“This is a real opportunity for us to add density into a site that already has all the services, already has fire protection, already has police.”
But it hinges on changes that would be required to happen before the proposal can move forward.
Residential construction is currently prohibited around the Polo Park mall site by a set of rules under the Airport Vicinity Protection Area Secondary Plan (AVPA). The purpose of the AVPA is to “protect the 24-hour air operations of the airport by limiting residential noise complaints.”
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The report, heading first to the Assiniboia Community Committee March 3, recommends rejecting the proposal for this reason.
Read the full report:
“Some components of the proposal are consistent with several Key Directions and Enabling Strategies of OurWinnipeg/Complete Communities…However, given the information available at this time, the Public Service views the potential risk of threatening the 24-hour air operations of the Winnipeg Airport and planned expansion of the airport as outweighing the potential benefits described above.”
Shindleman called this logic “nonsense.”
“The airport would like to sterilize the land so that they have the only residential land of the only develop-able land and develop it as they see fit,” Shindleman said.
“The proposition that you can either have a 24-hour airport or this development is frankly nonsense.”
The developers point specifically to a similar project that has already been approved in Richmond, B.C.
Cadillac Fairview partnered with B.C. developer SHAPE and GBL Architects to undergo the comprehensive mixed-use redevelopment on 27 acres.
The project includes 12 new mid-rise buildings reaching a height no greater than 14 storeys, with retail space located within the lower floors, and residential space within the upper floors.
The site also sits just 1.5 kilometres from the Vancouver International Airport.
“Ultimately, the city was faced with the decision and so the city said, ‘You know what? We can have both,'” Zarnowski said. “We can have a functional airport and we can have a vibrant development. It’s just a matter of us doing the hard work to make sure that we can actually be a real city with real aspirations.”
The Richmond project is part of the material the developers have put together to present to a city committee.
It also includes a lengthy document called the “Airport Noise and Adjacent Development Report.” The report includes aviation noise metrics, civil aviation authority policy guidance and recent airport-adjacent residential developments.
The plans go before city council March 3.
-With files from Richard Cloutier