Winnipeg Airports Authority attempts to bypass city council on Polo Park development

The Winnipeg Airports Authority has thrown its weight against a plan to build apartments around Polo Park mall by appealing to the municipal board before city council gets to vote.

Wants municipal board to rule on changing city bylaw allowing residential development around mall

Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government has approved funding for a noise study for the area around the airport. (CBC)

A city council vote Wednesday was supposed to decide between two very substantial competing interests, but something happened on the way to the meeting.

Months of submissions and previous votes could be rendered meaningless as the Winnipeg Airports Authority has asked for the Manitoba Municipal Board to review proposed changes to a city bylaw that would have allowed residential development around the Polo Park mall.

The skirmishes have pitted developers with big plans for residential projects around Polo Park against the WAA's defence of its 24-hour-a-day status as a cargo hub.

To make matters even more complicated, CBC News has learned the provincial Progressive Conservative government has approved funding to do a study into the noise generated by the airport and how it affects development in the area —a detail many councillors had no knowledge of before they prepared to vote Wednesday, or had when they voted at previous committee meetings.

Councillors were set to make a decision Wednesday on changing a planning framework known as the Airport Vicinity Protection Area, which restricts residential development around the airport.

Now Winnipeg's city council may set the vote aside as its legal department reviews whether the WAA's request, made in a letter on the eve of the vote, is indeed legal.

The letter from the WAA to the City of Winnipeg says the airports authority has the right to appeal to the municipal board "in the name of the Government of Canada."

Three separate committees at city hall — Assiniboia community committee, property and planning and executive policy — have all heard submissions or debated the issues, with a final vote expected at council Wednesday.

On the one hand there is Cadillac Fairview, the owner of CF Polo Park, joined by Winnipeg's Shindico Realty and Towers Realty Group, who propose wide-scale residential developments in the area.

On the other is the WAA, which runs the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, and sees lifting the restrictions as a potential threat to its cargo business.

The lawyer for Shindico Realty doesn't believe the WAA has the authority to appeal to the municipal board. (Google Street View)

The WAA says it supports some kind of development around its property, but only after a comprehensive study is completed.

"I don't believe for a second Cadillac Fairview will just walk away from this. I think they can wait until we have a proper plan and then they can have the confidence as well knowing that they're developing in a proper location," said Tyler MacAfee, vice-president for the Winnipeg Airports Authority. 

Calls to Cadillac Fairview for comment were not returned.

Shindico Realty general counsel Jason Zarnowski told CBC News "the WAA doesn't have the authority to submit this to the municipal board and by doing so is it just a another delaying tactic."

It might have been a close vote

CBC News had canvassed several councillors in advance of what was supposed to be the deciding vote on whether the city allow changes to the AVPA.

Nine councillors had either indicated to CBC News they would would vote to change the area plan or had voted that way at previous meetings.

Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason (who'd planned to vote for the changes) said the 11th-hour manoeuvres by the WAA are "playing out like a pre-scripted drama." 

Coun. Kevin Klein says Winnipeg in danger of losing massive investment around Polo Park. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Kevin Klein, representing Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, also planned to vote for changing the plan.

Now he calls what's happening "astounding" and says the city has already lost millions in potential revenue from developments sitting in limbo and doesn't want the same for the Polo Park area.

"No matter how you choose to spin it, investors are watching and asking if Winnipeg is a place to invest," Klein said.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty told CBC News the airport has been in the same location for generations and anyone who chooses to live in the area has to be aware there are planes taking off and landing, day and night. 

He looks at noise complaints near an airport in a similar fashion to anyone who buys a home near the Brady Road landfill.

"I won't be listening to complaints about the smell if they come," Browaty said.

Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie said he would have also have voted to ditch the restrictions and isn't concerned about noise complaints.

"It's an infill. This isn't about a brand new development. I think it's great," Eadie told CBC News.

Councillors Scott Gillingham and Sherri Rollins joined Mayor Brian Bowman and voted in favour of the changes at an executive policy committee meeting last week. 

The rest of EPC — councillors Matt Allard, Cindy Gilroy, Brian Mayes and John Orlikow — voted against altering the restrictions. 

No details available on provincial  government study money

None of the councillors CBC News spoke with knew the provincial government had approved funding for a study on the noise created by the airport.

Mayor Brian Bowman was asked when he became aware of the provincial government's desire to pay for the work, and when the offer was made, but a spokesperson offered only a brief statement in response.

"The mayor and council can only make their decisions based on information presented as part of the hearing process. We are still in the hearing process and I have not seen that information entered into the public record," said the statement.

The provincial government similarly provided little explanation on its decision to fund the study, when it made the decision, what its scope was or how much money was being provided.

"It's our understanding this item is in front of Winnipeg city council and we do not want to interfere with this process before it occurs," wrote a spokesperson for municipal affairs minister Rochelle Squires.