Polo Park developer says ‘frustrating’ delay on municipal board hearing puts project at risk

Delays are increasing the risk Winnipeg could lose a massive development around the Polo Park shopping centre, one of the companies behind the plan warns.

“Every day we wait, or month or whatever, that is a huge risk,” said Justin Zarnowski, legal counsel for Shindico Reallty. 

The development, first proposed in August 2019, is awaiting a hearing in front of the provincial government’s municipal board. It’s also waiting for the results of a noise study and a land-use planning analysis of airport-related development restrictions.

Shindico, the local partner working with property and development giant Cadillac Fairview on the project, has said a completed residential project around Polo Park and on the former Canad Inns stadium site would be valued in the billions of dollars.

The development plan stumbled during the City of Winnipeg’s oversight process after the Winnipeg Airports Authority objected to changes to what’s known as the Airport Vicinity Protection Area Secondary Plan.

The bylaw restricts residential development in the area around Polo Park, in order to avoid complaints about noise from the operations of the nearby Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

A series of procedural twists and turns ensued; the federal government got involved on behalf of the airports authority, and city council ultimately voted to delay a decision to change the airport vicinity plan.

Earlier this year, the project landed on the desk of the provincial municipal board, a quasi-judicial tribunal that has authority to resolve disputes around issues such as zoning and subdivisions.

At the time, Rochelle Squires, the provincial minister of municipal relations, told reporters a backlog of cases in front of the municipal board has been cleared and the plan could be heard soon.

“I know they are being able to hear things a little bit more quickly and will be able to move through this. I don’t anticipate this taking an extended period of time,” Squires said on May 29. 

This week, a provincial spokesperson said efforts are underway to get the various parties to meet, in order to determine when to hold a hearing.

“The municipal board operates independently of government and is in the process of determining the availability of the parties to set up the next step,” wrote the spokesperson in an email.

The spokesperson says the noise study and land-use planning analysis — which was tendered out by the province this past summer — is expected to be completed shortly.

“Once it is submitted to government it will be reviewed. However, at this time the report has not been submitted yet,” wrote the spokesperson.

‘Hearing to get a hearing’ 

Shindico’s Zarnowski says representatives from the municipal board finally reached out to him in mid-November, but only to set up a meeting to determine dates for the actual hearing for the project.

“It is very, very frustrating [that arranging] a hearing to get a hearing has taken five months,” he told CBC News. “It’s crazy it’s taken this long — we could have done this with a phone call.”

Zarnowski said he doesn’t “want to be threatening,” but challenged the Progressive Conservative government to move much faster.

“For them to say they want economic development — put your money where your mouth is,” Zarnowski said.

Shindico’s partner in the Polo Park project, Cadillac Fairview, is doing a similar project in Montreal, Zarnowski says, and has to weigh its risks.

“They don’t have a drop-dead date, but every day has a risk,” he says.

One of the other parties involved — the Winnipeg Airports Authority — says it welcomes the chance to sit down, or teleconference, to talk before the hearing, especially about the planning analysis that comes with the noise study.

“We think there is value in getting all of the participants together to talk about the province’s review of the [Airport Vicinity Protection Area Secondary Plan],” said Tyler MacAfee, the airport authority’s vice-president of communications and government relations.

“We need to make sure all of this works together.”

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