A City of Winnipeg committee unanimously approved a plan for developing an empty swath of land at the Forks on Monday.

Parcel 4, a gravel patch across from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is currently being used for parking. The two lots make up the largest surface parking lots in downtown Winnipeg. 

'There's the old song, you know, "Pave paradise, put up a parking lot," but we're going the other way here' - City Councillor Jeff Browaty

The city's Standing Policy Committee on Downtown Development approved a report that proposes turning the area into a pedestrian plaza, green space and several mixed-use residential units that would have businesses along the ground floor. A portion of the land would also be earmarked for a cultural centre. 

"We're saying we're committed to this project. We want to provide the space to [The Forks]," said committee chair Coun. Mike Pagtakhan. "[They] can use this in terms of [their] business case going forward to get the financing, to secure any type of tenant leases to make this thing a reality." 

Tall, thin residential buildings planned

Having people live at the Forks has been a controversial idea, but Pagtakhan said the buildings are unobtrusive, and 60 per cent of the space will be designated for public use.

Conceptual drawings Parcel 4

This conceptual drawing shows plans for the Parcel 4 site at The Forks, which currently consists of two large surface parking lots. (Rail Side and Parcel Four Planning Initiative)

"The plan that we saw today was a very small footprint," he said. "They want it to be tall and thin buildings and buildings that are not low and wide so they maintain the vistas of the city [and]

sight lines to the museums."

As for parking, there would be two parkades with about 700 spots.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said she is "delighted" with the plan, while Coun. Jeff Browaty went so far as to call it a paradise.

"There's the old song, you know, 'Pave paradise, put up a parking lot,' but we're going the other way here. We're taking the parking lot and building paradise here, so this is pretty exciting," said Browaty.

The plan puts an emphasis on pedestrian access, and Forks North Portage CEO Jim August said they hope to better link the downtown and Exchange District areas under the new design.

That's welcome news for bakery owner Tabitha Langel.

She is one of the owners of Tall Grass Bakery, which has operated at The Forks for 12 years.

"I really love the idea that we're going to connect Portage and Main. That separation

[between the Forks and downtown] needs to be dealt with. It's almost like a glass wall," she said.
Parcel 4

This parking lot is one of two known as Parcel 4 at The Forks. The gravel lots are the subject of a new development plan that includes parks, shopping and housing. (Louis-Philippe Leblanc/CBC)

As for what impact people living at the Forks will have, Langel said she's not sure what to expect.

"What will the impact be on my business here at the Forks? Well, there's also going to be other shops there and there might be other bakeries, but we'll see," she said.​

August said the increased number of people in the area will improve safety and business, and The Forks is even considering using the top levels of the planned parkades as spots for rooftop outdoor events.

Work could be done in six years

The report was created after a public consultation process that asked the community what elements they'd like to see in the area.

Now that the committee has approved the plan and approved a motion to mark the land as surplus, more detailed public consultations are now being planned.

After that, more detailed design and rules for developers will be drafted. All of that will go back to city council for a vote this fall. 

It is expected to take up to seven years before the area is fully developed.

In 2012, a private company made a bid to develop the area into a water park and hotel, but public backlash quashed the proposal. 

Read the full proposal below