Parks and Recreation, Winnipeg Style (Part 1)

Part 1: The Good Doctor

Last week I attended a rezoning committee meeting at City Hall. I’m not overly political or really all that involved in the goings on in my neighbourhood, so it was a little unusual for me to be there. We’ve lived in the neighbourhood for almost nine years now. We were attracted to the area for a number of reasons. It’s an older area of town; neither one of us were interested in living in a cardboard cutout neighbourhood (not to mention the fact that there was no way we could have afforded to live in such a cardboard cutout neighbourhood even if we had wanted.) It’s close to green space, (a golf course and walking trails along the river are nearby; lots of huge old trees and huge old houses. We live in a tiny old house though). And most importantly, it wasn’t Charleswood or St. James (the two neighbourhoods that my wife and I grew up in, respectively). It’s not that we have anything against those two neighbourhoods, but we both made a conscious decision that we wanted to live somewhere new, even if somewhere new was only 20 minutes away from somewhere old.

It was the green space issue that brought me to City Hall last week. There’s a private club down the street from us that wants to build a six-story condo on the river. This project was first announced last summer and instead of having public consultations with the community, the club owners held a sneaky “invitation only” information session which didn’t include invites to most of the neighbours that would be in condo’s shadow, interestingly enough. This meeting was only held after the zoning committee learned that not public information sessions had been held at all. Over the fall, signs began popping up around the neighbouring saying “NO2C2”, referring to the required zoning change if this project is to go ahead. Those opposed to the project even developed a website.

Oleg the security guard. You do NOT want to test Oleg. Believe me.

The meeting I attended was supposed to be an opportunity for the developer to show that he acted in good faith and held the required public meetings to listen to the community and make adjustments as needed. I didn’t like the idea of such a big project to be a blight on the already fragile riverbank, but more importantly I don’t like bullies and I had a feeling that this project was being run by a bunch of bullies. I wanted to go and see for myself.

The meeting was held in the full council chambers, although the committee itself was made up of only three councillors, Jenny Gerbasi, John Orlikow and Harvey Smith, as well as a city planner. We were the third item on the agenda, but the  first two items only took about 10 minutes. I was seated in the gallery between an older woman and a young girl about age 4 and her father. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was also sitting directly in front of the developer and his entourage.

The procedure is that the developer gets to make his case for 10 minutes, followed by questions from the committee. Anyone who wishes to speak in favour of the project can speak next for ten minutes each. After that, anyone opposed to the project is allowed 10 minutes each, and then the developer is allowed a final 10 minutes to address any concerns raised.

Something seemed fishy right from the get-go. The developer began speaking and rather than laying out his development plan, he began a long rambling series of salutations to the committee wishing them a “profitable 2012” and “many blessings” and acknowledging that “God works in mysterious ways” and “may the Lord be with us” and all kinds of jazz. He kept referring to himself in the third person as “the doctor” and I’m not sure if he was a medical doctor or what. Very soon his ten minutes were up. He seemed genuinely surprised that there was no time left on the clock. He then asked if he could “borrow” someone else’s 10 minutes. Already he was breaking the rules. The committee allowed it, I think because they wanted to actually hear what the project was about and what steps had been taken to satisfy community interest. The committee warned that they would extend the same courtesy to anyone else who wanted to speak that night. You would think at this point he would cut to the chase and begin explaining the project, but no. He rambled on for another full seven minutes, and with 3 minutes left on the clock he said. “I would now like to outline my proposed project.” Needless to say the bell rang again and he asked for another 10 minutes. Fortunately the committee told him to fuck off. (They didn’t actually say fuck off but that was the spirit).

Lookie here! We all turned out.

The next presenter in favour of the project was the architect. He had a Powerpoint presentation, but wouldn’t you know he didn’t have the right cable to connect to the projector.

While he was fiddling with his laptop, there were about 3-4 other people in favour of the project. Three or four people out of more than a hundred who showed up to the meeting. I’m not that great in math, but I’d say that was like 195 opposed to the project.

One woman in favour of the project spoke while the architect got sorted. She didn’t say more about the project except that she was “for it” and that “the good doctor” was a “beautiful man” who “loved life”. You could tell she was in cahoots with the developer.

 Then it got weird.

She lived on the far side of the golf course to which his club is attached. She then used the rest of her 10 minutes to rant about how much she hated people walking around the golf course with their kids and their dogs and don’t they realize this is private property and she wishes the City patrolled this area and isn’t it terrible that people treat this spot as their own common area, etc etc? At the end of her time, Councillor Gerbasi looked at the woman over her glasses and said “You do realize that the golf course property to which you refer is City property, not private property, and that it is in fact, open to all, including dogs and children? The space is designed so that the community can use it. And by the way, if you’re hoping to win the community over to your side on this project, you’re not doing a very good job of it.”

The woman had no response to this, and went back to her seat, fuming. It took two more presentations in favour of the project (both by fat-cat asshole types who don’t live in the immediate area, but I’m supposed to be objective here, right?) before they decided that the poor architect was just not going to be able to show his presentation on the big screen. This was a shame, as the presentation was meant to sway the community as much as it was meant to sway the committee, and quite frankly after the baby and dog hating psycho rant, the condo side needed all the help it could get.

Artist's sketch of "The Good Doctor" and "Crazy Dog and Baby Hating Lady"

So in one of the more surreal moments of the night, the architect stood immediately in front of the three person committee and held his laptop in front of him, pushing the “next” button as he showed the slides on his tiny screen. We found out that this building would house 65 units and would indeed be 6 stories tall. There would be a parking garage under the building and it would face out onto the river. I felt like turning around to the dog/baby hater and saying, “Hey, if you don’t like people walking near your property now, just wait until you have 65 more units of people tramping all over the place. Are you actually insane?” but I remained quiet. I was too scared of the City Hall security guard, Oleg, to say anything.

This concluded the developer’s presentation.

Next time, Part 2: The opposition

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