The uncertain future of the Lemay Forest has prompted community leaders in St. Norbert to come up with an alternative to developing the private lands that have long been frequented by hikers and dog walkers.
Tochal Development Group hosted an open house Saturday to showcase options for its 22.5-acre site, which is adjacent to Lemay Avenue and near the southwest shores of the Red River.
Posters around the St. Norbert Community Centre indicated the municipal government could buy the lot so it remains as is, or the real estate developer could build residential housing on it. Visitors were also encouraged to write down ideas for Tochal to develop an “Option C.”
Dana Derkson’s preferred outcome was nowhere to be found.
“We’d like to acquire those lands with a set group of partners and we would like to operate a four-season place for recreation, heritage and historical education,” the community centre president said in an interview during which she revealed a preliminary plan that has been under wraps for months.
Derkson said organizers want to transform the grounds into a tourist destination involving potential partners ranging from the Manitoba Métis Federation to Winnipeg Trails’ Mobile Ski Library.
The project would require the City of Winnipeg to chip in or facilitate a land swap, as well as private financial support, she said, noting the community centre has charitable status so it could generate a tax receipt for the developer.
The St. Norbert resident is anticipated to formally present the proposal to city councillors later this month.
In doing so, she said she will share a letter of support from members of the St. Norbert Foundation, a charity made up of representatives from the local BIZ, farmers market, community and arts centres and Behavioural Health Foundation.
Derkson acknowledged that obtaining the land – which she estimates is worth upwards of $2 million, although Tochal has not sought a comprehensive appraisal or put a public price tag on it — would be “extremely complicated.”
Late last year, Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) raised a motion calling for the city to negotiate a price for the site and refer its potential purchase to the upcoming budget process.
Council’s property and development committee is set to vote on the motion Jan. 11.
The “Team Tochal Preference” is to construct between 544 to 3051 units with parking for future residents. There are five renderings, ranging from a retirement resort to a blueprint with 12 to 16-storey housing, commercial space, Indigenous healing areas, a treed public park and continuing care facilities.
Project planner John Wintrup said the site is ideal for housing because of its close proximity to rapid transit — 800 meters from the closest Blue Line stop — and a grocery store.
“Nobody owns a publicly accessible, privately owned park. That is not a reality,” Wintrup said, adding he is confident the lands will be transformed this year and local residents’ input will inform that process.
“They are not staying as is. My client, the land owner, is not going to be owning a wood-lot by the end of 2024.”
(At the same time, Wintrup said the developer is open to building housing elsewhere, but he noted his client has not received an answer to an Oct. 18 letter sent to all levels of government to request officials express interest in purchasing the lot before the end of 2023.)
Open house attendees were asked to rank how they want the land to be used in an “Option C” handout that listed: single family-dwelling; care home; agricultural cultivation; outdoor urban agriculture; post office or carrier depot; community gardens; park, plaza or square playground; and minor utility facility.
As far Cat Macaulay Gauthier is concerned, the latest consultation event was designed to get community members riled up and put pressure on the city to purchase the property of trails she frequents and likens to “therapy.”
The co-founder of the Coalition to Save Lemay Forest, a group of residents motivated to preserve the lot for both environmental and recreational reasons, noted significant and costly sewer and water upgrades would be required to develop housing.
“No development plan has been submitted to the city,” she added.