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Another Case of Winnipeg Residents vs a Developer vs City Hall

The Lemay Forest, a 22-acre parcel of land nestled on the South side of the St Norbert Heritage Trail, has become the center of a fierce debate, revealing a fatal flaw in our governing body - a flaw that is a consequence of reactionary politics.

The Lemay Forest has a history intertwined with the community, but years ago, it was purchased with the intent of developing homes. As a developer sets their sights on this land and navigates the bureaucratic maze at City Hall, residents in the area are voicing grave concerns again.

Dana Derkson, a concerned resident, shared her frustration with me in an email, stating, "We have been told several stories over many years of what would be built on this property. Obviously, determining what is truth has been very difficult." She also pointed out the essential role the forest plays in the community's ecosystem.

I reached out to Councillor Markus Chambers for insight into the proposed project, and he echoed the concerns voiced by Dana. Chambers admitted that there are too many challenges associated with the subject property, including a lack of capacity for city water and sewer, issues with access in and out from the proposed development, and the potential for flooding development. He clarified that he is not opposed to development, but he believes it should not occur in this specific location.

The real question that arises from this situation is why nobody acted proactively to protect the forest decades ago, or even just five years ago, knowing of all these issues. Why does the city not provide these critical issues to investors before they invest millions to purchase vacant land and begin the design and permitting phase, only to hit roadblocks and engage in heated battles with residents? There is a simple solution.

This problem exemplifies the perils of reactionary politics. Our leaders often wait until negativity reaches a tipping point that could jeopardize their position in the community to act. There has been ample time to purchase the property in question and designate it as a greenspace reserve, or at the very least, plenty of time for the city to publicize the major hurdles, allowing investors to make informed purchasing decisions.

The issue of water and sewer capacity is not unique to this development alone. Many developers have experienced their frustration with the city's fallback on this concern, resulting in additional expenses, which are then passed on to homebuyers and renters, artificially inflating housing costs. In this digital age, it should be feasible for the city to maintain an online map highlighting areas where water and sewer capacity is not available, potentially spurring more efficient development in other parts of the city.

It's disheartening that, despite being told of a housing crisis, we witness numerous developments hitting a bureaucratic wall at City Hall. Elected officials must take responsibility and make changes to the system. They should identify areas where water and sewer capacity is limited and make this, and any issues that will impact development, information readily available to the public.

Moreover, they should proactively acquire properties they wish to protect for environmental reasons, eliminating the public battle and stress to residents and investors. Make it easier for investors to develop in the city, be a good business partner and eliminate the frustration and financial setbacks. I spoke to one developer this week who has been battling the city to build on vacant land for over three years. This is not good business.

We need leaders with vision who can address these concerns, making it easier for both investors and residents to thrive. The Lemay Forest issue is a stark reminder that we must not wait for a crisis to act but rather adopt a proactive approach for the benefit of our city and its citizens.


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