This past Monday night, council passed what should be the final resolutions to sell a portion of the water tower lands to Seymour Pacific Developments for the construction of two new apartment blocks with a total of 110 new units. This has been a development 15 months in the making and one that has stirred much community discussion. The majority of the residents I have spoken with support this development – however there were a small but vocal group of people who did not. Council has worked very hard to understand the concerns that were raised and have taken great steps to address them as best we can while still allowing this much needed development to occur.
Below you will find the speaking notes I prepared and delivered at Monday’s meeting after the final vote. Because there was concern and considerable debate about the virtues of this development, I want residents to know why I support this project. I want to take this opportunity to share the facts and to balance out the rumours and the misrepresentations that have been circulating.
So here are my notes. Please forgive any grammar and sloppy language, these are just my notes and I’ve not taken time to polish them.
This development has required significant amounts of review and consideration.
I certainly empathize with the people who have raised concerns over the past 15 months this proposal has been under review. I too would feel some level of consternation if I was in their position.
That said, I do think that this council has taken every reasonable effort to listen to, understand, and address the concerns that have been raised. To make this project happen, the planning act required us to have a single public hearing – held in these chambers. Knowing that this minimal level of public involvement was not acceptable, council held a well advertised open house to solicit feedback and to share the proposed project in detail. As we moved forward we continued to collect feedback and we continued to work with proposal proponents to address the concerns raised. We brought in Lombard North Group a professional consulting firm with decades of experience in land use planning and neighbourhood development. All residents had an opportunity to share their concerns with Lombard North and using their expert knowledge they developed three options from which council selected the one that reduced the impact on local residents the most and, as it turns out, cost the developers the most.
This option greatly improved the landscaping to incorporate hills and trees to improve buffering between the site and the neighbouring homes. It realigned the buildings to reduce and in most cases eliminate the shadows cast by the buildings so as not to darken the neighbours homes. And most costly of all, it reduced the size of the building closest to the neighbours to reduce the line of sight on to their property and provide a less imposing view. These changes will require a substantial change in upfront cost to the developer and will reduce their annual revenue by $205,000 due to the loss of 18 rental units. These changes also reduce the tax revenue and the net economic impact to be enjoyed by the entire community. But we felt these changes went a long way to address the needs of the local residents. In cases like this, balance is needed and this loss to the entire community is a warranted cost to reduce the impact to the local neighbourhood.
As I’ve said, there has been significant consideration given to the concerns of local residents, more than I have ever seen in my time on council, and far more then what is typically expected. While I empathize with those who still have some concerns, my role as councillor demands that the needs of the entire community must been met.
As I do with all of my decision in this seat, I look at the situation with a triple-bottom line mentality. In this situation, I can truly say that there is a net positive return on this development, economically, environmentally, and socially.
This is the first and most obvious return for the city. This proposal will shift this property from costing us thousands each year to maintain to bringing in tens of thousands in new tax revenue with our Economic Development office estimating the new revenue to be around $80,000 per year. In addition to that having 110 new middle income family units moving into our community represents a minimum of over $4 million in new economic trade in our community as people moving into the community bring their incomes with them. This $4 million in new trade represents more people buying their bread at Upper Crust Bakery, more people buying their meet at Thor’s, more people having breakfast at Roxy’s, more people buying cars at the local GM dealership and more people stopping in for Woodfire baked Pizza’s at Benjamin’s. Growth in local trade means existing business must hire more people and new entrepreneurs will be attracted to set up new businesses. More dollars flowing into our community mean more local jobs for local people.
Now I know that some people believe that the city has sold this land at too low a price. Well, the fact of the matter is that we followed the exact same practice the city has followed since I was elected and for years before that – we sold the land at assessed value. We have been selling bare land lots with this practice for a long-time. It’s important to note that the price we received COULD have been higher, however we negotiated this price with the developer after we asked them to change their development. Rather than simply bring in a small one-time infusion of an additional $100k, council chose to defend the interests of the local neighbours and stuck with the changed development plan. Even the fanciful quotes that I’ve heard about how much we “could have got” pale in comparison with the on-going revenue the community will receive with such a large expansion to our tax base. This new tax revenue is even more powerful because we do not need to add new roads and pipes to collect it. This development makes Selkirk more efficient by adding to our tax base but not adding to our capital infrastructure costs. We on council are not in the business of selling land for quick short-term profit, we are hear to build an economically viable community for the long-term. Those who think we sold the land for cheap totally misunderstand our role.
If you’re looking for recent examples of where the city negotiated prices and capital investments to make development happen you need only look at the Walmart Development where the city sold land at assessed value and paid $400,000 to remediate the soil, or the Creekside Development where we put in around $500,000 in new utility infrastructure to make development on that site possible.
If you are looking for historic examples I can think about none better than the Manitoba Rolling Mills where Selkirk, through its development corporation at the time, gifted 30 acres of land, a 40% tax reduction for 12 years and a $250,000 in cash to attract the rolling mills to Selkirk. That was in 1912 – in today’s dollars that $250,000 would be worth (according to the Bank of Canada) over $5.2 million dollars – and I can’t even hazard a guess at what the land would be worth today.
No – it is apparent that the city must be prepared to negotiate with private enterprise if it is going to be successful in economic development. Take a look at what Winkler, Steinbach and Morden are doing to attract new private investment.
By every rational, logical measure available to use – this development makes good economic sense for the whole community.
Another concern that has been raised has been the loss of “green space”. It is interesting to me that this land is referred to as green space now, when I have so often heard it referred to as an empty field in the past, however – it is an open piece of land that could be used as park space if it were practicable. I say could be used because it is not currently being used as such. This field is one of the most under used spaces that our city maintains. Within a 10 minute walk, we find Selkirk Park. A beautiful, example of what “green space” really means. Selkirk has a number of parks and maintained green spaces throughout our community. In three short years this council has invested more in park improvement than the last two councils combined. The claim that this council doesn’t care about recreation or green space is demonstrably false. We recognize the value of green space, that’s why half of the land at this site we be retained and developed into a true park, with trees, walking trails, plants other than turf grass, and other park features. We have limited resources and I believe it is better to concentrate our efforts on maintaining parks that are actually being used. We should focus on the quality of our recreational space not just the quantity.
I know the argument about negative environmental impact of developing the space has been used as well. This argument is a bombastic non-starter. The net environmental impact of maintain non-indigenous turf grass to urban lawn standards with gas-powered lawn mowers is in fact, negative. The spraying of weed control chemicals and the lawn mower emissions of greenhouse gases out weights any potential positive effect a field of turf grass provides. Moreover, if this project was built on the open space at the fringes of our community, as has been suggested by some, it would require the bulldozing of treed land, or the loss of productive agricultural land. Neither of these options is better than using a turf grass field. In fact, the farther way you have development from your core services like groceries, banking, etc – the more environmental damage you do because you are requiring residents to drive to do routine tasks. Environmental experts and urban planners a like will tell you that building up and not out is the responsible way to build a health and green community. Residents of these new buildings will live within walking distance off all the major services one uses in a typical week. This site is also well served by public transit with a stop conveniently at the corner of Sophia and Clandeboye Ave.
From an environmental perspective this development is exceptionally responsible. It is a shining example of greener land use and community development.
Finally, I believe this development delivers on some desperately needed improvements to our community’s social infrastructure. We have had a near zero vacancy rate in this city for years. As our young people come of age they find it next to impossible to find a place of their own in our city forcing them to move to Winnipeg and as retirees in the Selkirk and District area downsize and look for housing that meets their new lifestyle they too are having to look south to meet their needs. One of the most consistent requests I hear from citizens in this community is to attract more housing. This development delivers. This development introduces 110 new units to the community in on one motion. It is by far the largest residential development this city has seen for a long time.
At our current average of 2.4 residents per unit, we expect that Selkirk’s population will increase by about 264 people. That represents a population growth of 2.7%. To put that in context, between 2006 and 2011 Selkirk’s population grew by 319 people or 3.4%. This development will produce 83% of the population growth we experienced during the entire last census period. As I’ve noted earlier – all of these people will live within a 2 minute walk ofManitoba Avenue Eastand our downtown core. More people living downtown means more foot traffic for local business and more crime-preventing eyeballs keeping watch in the evenings. It is the presence of people that makes a downtown vibrant – a lesson even Winnipeg is finally learning.
This development is a prime example of what urban planning experts call people-centric community development. Adding middle income units to a downtown is like adding yeast to bread dough – it is the catalyst that makes it grow.
In closing – I must say that we on council have a duty to consider what’s in the best interests of the entire community today and into the future. I know that change can be scary for some and I know that this change is particularly scary for those who live in the immediate area because they are concerned the development will impact the value of their homes. All I can say to that is that decades of peer-reviewed academic research demonstrates that houses close to multi-family buildings do not lose property value. In fact we have just such an example in Selkirk on Sinclair Avenue where single family dwellings in the three hundred block have multi-family buildings to the immediate east and south of their homes. Looking at their asset values compared to similar homes in similar neighbourhoods we find there is not a gap in value. The fact is that studies show that land values in an urban community actually go UP throughout the community as multi-family units are built because multi-family units attract future housing market entrants and the added population drives community vibrancy and economic activity.
I am convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt that this development is good for Selkirk, economically, environmentally and socially. As a councillor, elected by the community at large after promising to work for exactly this type of economic development, I have a moral obligation to support this development and I do so knowing this is the right thing for Selkirk.