Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Builder beware

It seems that my post on Green Seed's nine-month wait for permits for the Youcube condo development on Waterfront Drive was noticed in certain offices around town, and served as grease for the wheels a little. And so it may be possible that Green Seed may actually get the go-ahead with a few months of the 2009 construction season to spare.

There is something not right when Centre Venture needs to spend their time encouraging PP&D (and one of their structural reviewers it particular, it seems) to do their jobs in a timely and competent fashion for (unconnected) developers. Whatever gets the job done, I guess. And in this environment, the job of getting market housing developments approved downtown does not occur often. I wonder why.

Anyway, here is an annotated (and abridged) chronology of the Gong Show:

09.09.08 Architect Applies for foundation permit

05.01.09 Permit Tracker confirms Permit has Been Awarded
Architect calls the City to check the progress of the permit. They are informed that the permit has been awarded. Architect informs Client. 1 hour later the City calls back to inform the Architect that they were mistaken.

27.03.09 Architect Resubmits full Architectural and Structural Drawing Set in Response to Phone Conversations
Full Permit Architectural Drawings are resubmitted to provide a current coordinated drawing set for reference purposes only, as specifically requested by the structural examiner. Structural examiner ensures architect that the project will be a high priority.

09.04.09 Architect Follows up with the structural examiner to discover a full, new sealed drawing set is now required, ‘not for reference only’, as previously requested. Architect is also informed that further review will take additional 3-4 weeks from the date of the new submittal.

15.04.09 Architect Resubmits full Sealed Architectural Set in Response to Phone Conversations
Current, sealed Architectural drawings reflecting both phases of the building are submitted at the insistence of the Structural Plan Examiner.

21.04.09 Phone Conversation Regarding Fire Protection Issues
As sealed Architectural drawings now reflect both phases of the development, fire protection issues that were to be ignored until phase 2 are being looked at again contrary to previous letters + agreement between the City and the Architect.

27.04.-06.05 Architect Over 10 working days Architect leaves three phone messages with the structural reviewer.

06.05.09 structural reviewer responds via e-mail simply stating that the review process is still underway, there is no indication if the current drawings will be acceptable.

15.05.09 Architect Calls the city repeatedly, requesting information on the status of the application.
Upon architect insisting, permit coordinator arranges for a conference call with the head of Plan Examination Department, Structural Examiner and Architect to try to provide a solution to the drawn out process, and try to find how to move the project forward. Architect finally receives a letter stating that full pile calculations must be provided by the structural examiner. [4 weeks after submission]

19.05.09 Engineer Submits full design load calculations to the city once again.

It is worth pointing out that this is residential development occuring not in some industrial-zoned corner of South Point Douglas. It does not contravene Plan Winnipeg (for what that is worth). It is not a 50-storey tower, or a stucco garage-fronted detached house (though maybe GS would have better luck if they did that...) It is multi-family infill on Waterfront Drive, which one will recall was built some years ago by the City to serve as a catalyst for exactly this type of development. It should be easier than this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What's exciting

This one has been a long time in the making (I mentioned it way back in an October 2007 column in the Free Press), but a hair salon and shoe boutique has opened on Main near Bannatyne Ave., one door immediately north of the Woodbine Hotel (effectively shutting down the local logic, from all sides of the spectrum, that says rich and poor can not co-exist in the same urban space).

I could never cease to be excited by small developments like this occuring in the Exchange District. This one especially, for being right on Main Street.

Photo by Adrian S.


And people wonder why Winnipeg does not see more housing being built downtown...

Green Seed Development has been waiting for the City's Property Planning & Development department to provide them with permits for their Youcube condominium development since Autumn of last year. They lost 20 contractors who were ready to go, and most of the orginal buyers, who have understandably moved on to other options. Green Seed had to go through Centre Venture and later the Mayor's office to get so much as a response from anyone at PP&D. And yet Green Seed still waits for permits that were coming "in three days" last Autumn.

Youcube is not even located inside South Point Douglas' heavy industrial zoning designation, so residential development is already permitted there. So why is it that the City is so averse to the construction of the first market housing units built in South Point Douglas since the Andrews Sisters dominated the pop charts? Why does the developer have to acquire suction through through Centre Venture and the Mayor's office to build something on Waterfront Drive? What exactly do they do over there at Fort Street? (Maybe that would make a good blog post on "Hey Winnipeg: What kinds of housing developments would YOU like to see Winnipeg city planners dither on?")

As someone at pointed out on this issue, there are three sides to every story. Fair enough. But somehow I doubt that PP&D goes into winter hibernation whenever Shinidco, Ladco, or the Province comes up with a new development to approve for the city's edge. Why is that in order for something to be built--something the City has ostensibly "wanted" for the past 40 years: dense infill housing in the central city--does one have to wait for six months to get the neccessary permits?

I am starting to wonder, in spite of the wonderful game many of them can talk, what exactly it is that city planners want for Winnipeg, and South Point Douglas in particular?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Worth remembering, not celebrating

Celebrating the general strike of 1919, playwright Danny Schur told the Free Press: "we tend to forget -- there's no institutional memory."

Indeed. But what exactly would Schur and other revisionists have us remember? Paper boys beaten by grown men for selling newspapers outside the sanction of the strike committee? Babies in the North End coming close to starvation because "the means of production" of milk were under the control of the Strike's "Food Committee"? Mayor Gray being beat up in plain view of indifferent policemen? A police officer shot in a gunfight at Higgins and Main? Probably not. Somehow, I doubt that any of the 5,000 people in lawn chairs on Main Street yesterday were "dazzled" by scenes portraying these events.

I missed the opportunity to ask my great-grandmother, who was 16 and living in Winnipeg at the time, about the strike. But it might have been that, like many people who lived through it, she would not have liked to talk about that experience. There is the local newspapers that continued to publish through the time. Winnipeg Telegram strike editions, or the Committee of One Thousand-published Winnipeg Citizen

And if hoary old newspapers are not your thing, read Ian Angus' article in the latest issue of this country's pre-eminent socialist magazine, Canadian Dimension.

"[R]ecently, the history of the Winnipeg General Strike has been rewritten by social democrats who describe the strike as just an attempt to win collective bargaining. The strikers were misunderstood heroes and the government response was reactionary and repressive, but only because it didn’t understand.

"But glory be! Despite those unfortunate misunderstandings, the strike led to the creation of the CCF, which led to the NDP, the ultimate party of discussion, compromise and mutual respect. Unfortunately for the social democratic interpretation, most of the leaders of the 1919 strike wave were not social democrats they were revolutionary socialists. And the experience did not lead them to the CCF it led them to build a new revolutionary party, the Communist Party of Canada."

Let us remember the strike for what it was: a failed attempt to overthrow British law and capitalism in Canada. A socialist revolution similar to the one that was destroying Russia at the time. But maybe it was not a complete failure: for six weeks, the city was in the grip of violence, fear, lawlessness, and hunger. Sounds like manifest socialism to me.

Monday, May 04, 2009


From my not-distant-enough past of working at Main Street Project, I cannot recall anything signficant about Faron Hall, a man who this week rescued a boy from the Red River near the Provencher Bridge. To me, he was simply another name in a continual blur of regulars on the register: the police would bring him in, and I would send him out around 6:00 A.M. No mess, no fuss: "Is it cold outside?" "What time's soup?" "Ok, have a nice day."

And so, I probably will not win any awards for my two bits on this rescue-turned-human interest story, but I will say that the only thing that is surprising about this story is that any man was able to swim out and drag a panicking teenaged boy to shore in the currents of the Red River. The river is rushing so fast right now, it is amazing anyone could survive.

What is not surprising is that a guy like Faron Hall jumped in to help; it would be no more surprising if an optometrist from Tuxedo, or a waitress from St. James, or a paramedic from East St. Paul ran into the water on Sunday. His social status is insignificant (contrary to how much the media is sure to milk it in the coming days... I can just see Gordon Sincliar jr. and John Mohan columns now...), as many people are capable of all kinds of clear thinking and selfless action in circumstances like this.


When I wrote in the Free Press last week: "[t]hese [design] regulations must be able to stand under the rule of law -- impartial, no matter who the builder is or which way the political winds are blowing," this is what I meant:

"And to overcome a shortage of park­ing stalls on the site, the City of Win­nipeg is insisting that Stonebridge in­corporate a car-sharing program into the development — something that has never been required before in Win­nipeg but that Stonebridge president Kurtis Sawatzky said the firm is will­ing to do."

A great idea. But it is too bad for Stonebridge that they are private and for-profit. If they were an arrogant bureaucracy going about the "public good," they could have had the City assemble enough land for them to built a giant parkade for 200 parking stalls, facing right onto River Avenue. The Planning Department could doze through the process, no public consultation would need to happen, and City council could give them $500,000 in tax credits. If only.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Old terminal to WAA: demolish me

No clearer indication that is time to demolish the existing Winnipeg Airport terminal, than the finding out that heritage preservationists want it kept.

The ultra-Modern design of the terminal itself, however, demands it be destroyed. From a Modernist perspective, there is no reason to keep the old terminal, since it is an out-moded relic of another age.
We should collectively look to the future, not dwell on the past. Because it was important at one time is no reason. Greek temples worked well 4,500 years ago, and the Winnipeg Airport terminal worked well 45 years ago. Those were then, the new terminal is now. Not only has technology and society advanced in leaps and bounds since 1964, but we are now a couple of generations removed from the repressive orders of the old age that stifled, among other things, art and architecture: divinity, morality, and objectivity. What is built now must be better than was built then.

There is no reason to keep a building for its significance. Do that, and the old terminal (and other important Modern buildings) are in danger of becoming venerable: something to aspire to.

Photos from the Winnipeg Building Index