Last week I started to talk about attending my first ever zoning committee meeting at City Hall. I got as far as the developer’s presentations. This week I finish up by describing what happened next.
Part 2: The Opposition
After a short break, it was the time for those opposed to speak. As we entered the gallery, we were asked to fill in a registration form and to indicate whether we were there in support, opposition, or for information only. I checked the “opposition” box, which meant that I was added to the pile of people who were eligible to speak if we so wanted. The committee began calling names and those who wanted to speak were allowed to come down out of the gallery and step up to the microphone stand. Just like the developers, everyone was alloted 10 minutes. Unlike the developer, almost everyone who spoke were well prepared, articulate and passionate.
I was surprised and touched by the quality of presentations made against this project. Many were opposed to the environmental impact such a project would have on the already eroding riverbank, others were opposed for more self-interested reasons such as declining property values and structural damage done to their properties during construction. Others didn’t like the way the developers tried to push this project through without community consultations. A large number were concerned that there was no business plan, or more sinisterly, that there was a business plan but yet it was not yet revealed.
The largest opposition seemed to be to the rezoning of the area to C2. According to Winnipeg’s Zoning By-Law, “The Commercial Community (C2) district is intended to accommodate more intensive commercial sites that do not have a local or neighbourhood orientation. The district is intended to include attractive commercial, institutional, recreational, and service facilities needed to support the surrounding neighbourhoods and the broader community. C2 districts are generally located along collector streets, at arterial/collector intersections, or along portions of arterial streets with relatively shallow lots.” The by-law’s wording clearly had people worried that if the zoning was changed, what other “intensive commercial sites” could be developed here? This is when the city planner spoke up. Up to this point he remained silent and apparently disinterested. It was not until Councillor Gerbasi asked him for clarification that he looked up from his laptop. Reminding me of Mark Brendanawicz from NBC’s Parks and Recreation, he explained that the only zoning that would accomodate a condo as well as the current club (i.e. swimming, curling, golfing) is the C2 designation. He said that a number of restrictions could be put on the site so that it could not, in fact, be turned into a Wal-Mart for example, without Council approval. It was the only zoning classification that the By-Law had that would fit.
What complicates things that the current City council is in the process of selling off the City owned golf courses without any public consultations at all. The lease on the golf course attended to this club expires in 14 years. What happens then? With a C2 designation, Sutton Foster tells us, “Anything Goes“.
One speaker asked why couldn’t the club activities be grandfathered and just keep the existing zoning, like the Bridge Drive Inn, a popular nearby ice-cream stand in an otherwise residential area? The city planner explained that grandfathering was an option, except that you couldn’t make any improvements or expansions to the existing set up, and if the property were damaged or destroyed by fire, you couldn’t rebuild it. I guess that explains why the BDI has never put in a cappuccino bar. It seems that if this project were to go ahead, C2 (with restrictions) was the way to go.
Eventually the father of the little girl next to me was called to speak. He lived across the river from the club and spoke against the aesthetic damage a condo like that would do to the view of the riverbank. With a trembling voice, he told the committee that he had deer in his backyard the other day. How many places in the middle of a city can you say that? Another person spoke about the “specialness” of this part of the city, and how we need to keep it special. It really felt like democracy in action. The people of my community had turned up in droves on a cold winter’s night at the same time that Canada was playing in the World Juniors’ Tournament to stand up for what they believe in. All the while I had to sit in front of the developer and his small band of supporters and listen to their sneers and scoffs as we all had a chance to speak. I half expected to turn around and see them twirling their mustaches and rubbing their hands together muttering “FOOLS! Who DARES to MEDDLE in the PLANS of THE GOOD DOCTOR?”
At 9:30 pm, a full three and a half hours after the meeting began, Councillor Orlikow announced that we had gotten through exactly one quarter of those opposed to the project. He reminded us that it was our democratic right to speak, but that if our points had been made by someone else, there was no need to repeat them.
Soon after that, my name was called. I let my chance to speak pass. I couldn’t have possibly added anything that hadn’t already been said. What would I say? That I kinda like to walk along the river sometimes in the winter and in the summer when its too dark to be hit by a golf ball? That I don’t really like golf and would be much happier if the golf course was turned into a park? That I hate bullies and assholes and that I want to see this project fail mainly because it seems to be driven by bullyism and assiholism?
I left shortly after my name was called. I was hungry for supper. I felt good about how things were going, and was happy to find out from a neighbour who had stayed ’til the bitter end that the committee declined the rezoning request. The developer’s 10 minute rebuttal was more of a concession speech than an actual attempt to address the 195 concerned voices he had just heard. He wasn’t willing to compromise with a smaller building of four stories, nor was he willing to build away from the river bank. Most importantly, he wouldn’t back away from the C2 rezoning request.
But is the project completely dead?
Not by a long shot.
The developer has the right to appeal the Committee’s decision, and I am sure he will. Also, the matter now gets referred to the City’s Executive Policy Committee and finally to the full City Council for a vote. At either stage, the rezoning committee’s decision could be overturned and the good doctor could be back in business. The very thing happened a couple of years ago with another condo development in the neighbourhood. That’s Parks and Recreation, Winnipeg style.
Growing up, my friend Steve’s dad would always listen to Peter Warren on CJOB radio. It was a call-in talk show and people would often vent about local and national issues. Steve and I would play a game where we’d count the number of times that former Winnipeg mayor Stephen Juba would be referenced, like “This wouldn’t have happened in Stephen Juba’s day” or “Juba would never have allowed this!” That sort of thing. It became a sort of running joke between me and Steve as we grew up. I even remember taking a Political Science class with Steve at the of U of W on urban affairs. Steve passed me a note during one of the lectures that said “How would Stephen Juba handle this situation?” We both almost got kicked out for our giggling.
Just as I was about to leave the rezoning meeting, the older woman sitting next to me turned to me and said, “The City wouldn’t be in such a pickle if we still had Stephen Juba”.