Next Monday the Standing Policy Committee on Downtown Development, Heritage and Riverbank Management will hear the appeal against the variance approved by The Director of Planning, Property and Development of the City of Winnipeg. The Director approved that a 24 storey multi-family could build a 24 storey multi-family skyscraper above the existing ‘Pumphouse’. Residents of the Exchange District and Winnipeg continue to challenge this short-sited vision for this historic and important cultural area of Winnipeg.
The current by-law states:
Downtown Zoning By-Law 100/2004 was being crafted at the same time Waterfront Drive was being developed as a roadway. The zoning standards for the Waterfront Drive Downtown Living Sector were created in tandem with an overall vision for the redevelopment of this area. It was a unique opportunity to create a different kind of downtown-street, with a large number of City-owned redevelopment sites available to advance the Waterfront Drive vision of compact, low-rise, mixed use development reflective of the adjacent Warehouse Sector. The same year Zoning By-Law 100/2004 was adopted, the City published the Waterfront Drive Expectations for Development guideline document. It encourages new buildings to be two to six storeys in height built up to the sidewalk. (The zoning permits eight storeys south of Galt Avenue, with no height limit north of Galt.) Six Waterfront Drive parcels have been developed since 2004. Only one is over six storeys. The eight storey Excelsior complex has its top storey set back so that the visual massing is reduced.
This has most often been advertised as a ‘Pumphouse’ issue, an opportunity to save the historical ‘Pumphouse’ and at the same time develop a 24 storey multi-family dwelling that will bring more people to the exchange. This is a much bigger issue than being about the Pumphouse.
1) THE Height of the building is inconsistent with the community
The original By-law is less than ten years old where the city looked to create a unique and historical part of Winnipeg. The architecture of the Exchange District is magnificent. Walking through the Exchange District visiting the local restaurants, theatres and galleries gives you a bit of a European feel. Closer to Winnipeg we have Quebec‘s Old Town (Vieux-Québec) which has worked hard to maintain the historical integrity of one of Canada’s treasures. Winnipeg’s Exchange District is an important part of our heritage. The splendour of the architecture in the area is remarkable and the By-Law and plan that was developed in 2008 must be maintained. The 24 storey structure will change the face Waterfront Drive.
2) Negative Effect of already developed structures
Beyond setting the wrong precedent, the height of this proposed development also comes with 2 other negative effects:
(a) Blocking potential views to the river / forks /downtown from other projects
(b) Shadow casting on neighbouring properties –
The Condo most affected would be Sky Condominiums. The tower will block views and light from the south-facing units of the Sky Condos year-round, as was shown in the developer’s models. It will decrease the livability of these units and negatively affect the value of these properties. Sky Condominiums developed a second phase which as per their plans created an enclosed courtyard to be shared by all residents as it is connected to its Common Room. This area is designed as a place to build community and enjoy the sunlight that will create a beautiful outdoor meeting place for residents.
3) Will the Pumphouse actually be preserved?
The models at the open house showed a tall, generic-looking apartment tower component rising out of the remains of the Pumphouse. The developer claims they will “save the Pumphouse” by building this tower, but in essence the character of the Pumphouse will be lost, if not destroyed, by such an ominous and generic glass structure. Indeed, it is questionable whether this development would ensure the preservation of the Pumphouse heritage asset. The City is not even asking for guarantees that the developer will maintain and respect the heritage assets of the Pumphouse in return for granting the zoning variance required. The aesthetic of the proposed design is also incompatible and contrary to stated architecture of the area. It does not complement surrounding low-profile heritage buildings.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should sound familiar we can look at Investor’s Field that was supposed to be covered? It not only isn’t covered but still cost more than budgeted. The costs of Investor’s Field to the City of Winnipeg is still growing. Traffic issues which can in reality only be solved through major infrastructure as well as the need to hire additional police officers to manage traffic problems. We then have approval of the redesign of Police Headquarters with only 30% of the plans in place. Cost over-runs, poor project management have created City Hall approved project that will cause a burden to the Winnipeg’s budget moving forward. We have the debacle of Fire Halls, the building of the Mere Hotel that has also negatively changed the skyline along Waterfront Drive. What if citizens hadn’t stood up and stopped the development of the Mayor’s thought of building a Waterpark across from the Human Rights Museum?
The issue here is what guarantee do we have that the project will move ahead as discusses.
4) Lack of Community Involvement
A complete lack of opportunity for the community to provide input into this proposal. The councillor for this area has consistently ignored email request for information or meeting with residents.
This is yet another example of the City of Winnipeg ignoring its own bylaws and plans, when they even exist, to cater to developers at the expense of tax-paying residents. The bylaws for the Waterfront Drive area impose an 8-story height limit to give it an aesthetic, livability, and sense of scale desirable for a successful mixed-use residential neighbourhood. Many of the residents in this area moved to the Waterfront because they bought into the vision the City was selling. However, the city is now turning their back on the very people they were desperate to win over to “downtown living.” Residents are entitled to have a say in how their neighbourhood is developed.
5) A real concern for Traffic and Parking
The traffic in this area is a problem, especially during rush-hour when traffic is backed up from James Ave. to Provencher Bridge. No traffic study has been done to show how a 220 suite apartment building will further the impact of traffic along Waterfront Drive.
The area cannot meet the parking needs of the current residents and visitors of the
Waterfront area, let alone meet the needs of the potential residents of a 24-story building. While there is talks of developing a 3-4 story parkade at James Ave. and Amy Street, this will only resolve some of the issue we have now. It is certainly not enough to accommodate the new development.
This is just another example of why are city needs a plan.
6) Our City needs a Vision and a Plan
A Secondary Plan needs to be developed for the neighbourhood by the City, with the input and engagement of the residents. So far, the City shows no interest in doing this. Here is a question? Who are the developers? How about who developed and owns the Mere Hotel? How did that variance and approval of design occur? What happened to the guaranteed ‘Greenspace’?
Developers of many communities always have conditions for development. Purchasing or building a new home in a development most often requires all structures to meet certain guidelines. These can be from materials used to build, the height of a building and the purpose for the building. Why not here? Why can the City so easily disregard its own bylaw and approve a variance that clearly will be out-of-place and negatively affect current residents?
There are many ways and ideas to develop on the ‘Pumphouse’ site. There will always be different viewpoints. Can the entire structure of the ‘Pumphouse’ be maintained? Do we need to find a compromise that may be keeping the historical aspect of the ‘Pumphouse’ as well as the historical nature of the entire neighbourhood? Is a 24 storey multi-family building what the community needs?
These are questions that can be answered through the approval and design of a plan for the historical Exchange District. I would go further and state a plan and a vision for all of Winnipeg where we look at each of our communities and how to make each of the areas better and more functional places for the people of Winnipeg.
There are already Condo developments that sit vacant. One factor to why they sit vacant is because of parking concerns. Another is people are looking for access to a small grocery stores or perhaps a bakery or another community meeting place. The “Pumphouse’ space has the ability to enhance the neighbourhood and be a multi-use space to meet the needs of current and future residents and maintain the cultural and historic integrity of the area.
If there is one thing I have learned in my time living in the Exchange District it is that Municipal politics is important. We need to pay attention to what is happening at City Hall. The current lack of vision, mismanagement of past projects as well as a total disregard for a true and legitimate consultation with the people of the City of Winnipeg is not acceptable. The true resource in Winnipeg is the people. City Hall ignores its most important resource. My conversations with people in regards to this issue and the numerous other problems at City Hall indicate we want our city to be run differently. We want a vision. We want to make Winnipeg a great place for people to live not only for today but as we move forward. We can’t let another project move forward without bringing about the changes we need in how City all operates.
Please click to hear my interview on CBC Radio Manitoba
Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.