Petition opposes Winnipeg land swap

A proposed land swap between the City of Winnipeg and a developer will destroy a natural park area, says a resident circulating a petition to halt the deal.

A proposed land swap between the City of Winnipeg and a developer will destroy a natural park area, says a resident circulating a petition to halt the deal.

As part of its plan to create a rapid-transit corridor, the city has worked out a tentative agreement with Gem Equities. The swap would see Gem Equities hand over about four hectares along the Fort Rouge railway yards in exchange for almost 25 hectares near Taylor and Waverley, where the company hopes to build about 3,500 townhouses.

City council will vote Wednesday on the land swap proposal.

Construction began last month on Phase 1 of a 3.6-kilometre high-speed bus lane that will run from The Forks to Jubilee Avenue. It is expected to cost $138 million and take three years to complete.

Cal Dueck, who lives near the area sought by Gem Equities, said the plan for townhouses would destroy a pristine area containing old trees, trails, grasses and marsh. He said the swap seems to be getting pushed through without proper consultation.

"This seems to be sort of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of decision, where this land is being given away without any thought of what could be on it," he said.

Dueck has started a petition in opposition to the proposed swap, gathering signatures in an effort to persuade councillors to vote against it.

Councillor broadsided by news of deal

Coun. John Orlikow said he was broadsided by news that hundreds of townhouses could be built in his ward. He first heard about the proposed deal with Gem Equities in the media.

Orlikow said he has no problem with the land swap but the notion of the townhouse development needs much more consideration. Part of the land has a willow forest and a nesting hawk and he would like to see part of it dedicated to parkland.

However, he is also aware it has been on the books for development for years.

"So the idea of just keeping it as green space is a laudable idea but when the developer gets it, we have to accept the fact that it will be developed," he said.

If done right, though, the development could be "the best proposal in the whole planet," Orlikow said, adding that using it all for towhouses is something he will not accept.

"I've talked to so may wonderful people from that area who are legitimately, and I totally agree with them, really upset. This is their back yard," he said. "And they're hearing about all of this from the paper, not from their elected representation — not from City Hall. It's awful."

Orlikow said he needs more clarification on what is being promised in the swap before deciding how to vote on Wednesday.

Mayor Sam Katz says the community should not jump to any conclusions. If Gem Equities gets the land, that doesn't mean its plans are automatically approved, he said.

"This is something that will take quite a while to ever be brought to fruition, if that's the way they decide to proceed. There is a process we go through for that," Katz said. "If and when that happens, we'll be able to hear from all parties."

The vote Wednesday is about a land swap, not about future uses of the site, he said.