Winnipeg city council’s Executive Committee voted Tuesday to stop a residential development the airport warned could jeopardize its ability to operate 24 hours a day.
The committee voted down a proposal that would have seen thousands of new homes built under the flight path of Winnipeg’s runway 13. Much of the area is currently used as a mall, though Canadian developer Cadillac-Fairview proposed a massive redevelopment to build new commercial space along with residences close to existing mass transit.
At issue were worries about noise. Despite improvements in engine and airplane technology, jets still generate plenty of noise, particularly overnight when cargo planes tend to operate.
Councillor John Orlikow formerly sat on the airport board and now sits on Winnipeg city council. In voting against the redevelopment, he said his office hears from residents bothered by airport noise.
“We get complaints,” he told the committee. “So for the developer to say ‘we won’t get any complaints,’ my experience is otherwise.”
Orlikow said there are ways to insulate a home against airport noise, but he said “none of that is here today.”
Winnipeg International is less than seven kilometres from the city centre.
Councillor Scott Gillingham voted in favour of the development, arguing new residential construction and the airport’s 24/7 operation can coexist.
“[The area] is ripe for strategic infill developments,” he said. “There will be thousands of residents that live in close proximity to the airport for generations to come. We need development and we need the airport.”
Councillor Sherri Rollins also voted in favour of redevelopment. She grew up under a flight path. “It is a both/and. I want to find a way forward to grow this city up and not out.”
The issue has generated hours of debate since the proposal was put forward late last year.
“We think that’s a positive step for sure,” said Tyler MacAfee, Vice President of Communications and Government Relations for the Winnipeg Airport Authority,
“We want to see development in Winnipeg,” said MacAfee. “But it needs to be done in a way that balances everything so that we can continue to be a hub for cargo, we can continue to do all the other things that are driving our economy and creating jobs.”
A report written for the airport in March suggested 24/7 operations allowed the airport to support 18,500 jobs in 2019 and $4.3 billion in economic activity. Those figures have dropped precipitously since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
YWG saw a 4.4% increase in the number of cargo planes landing in Winnipeg last month. Watch the video below for a behind-the-scenes look at the latest cargo shipment involving PPE for our community’s frontline workers. pic.twitter.com/kMIOnPkoKR— Winnipeg Airport (@YWGairport) April 23, 2020
“A number of people have spoken to me about this over time,” said Councillor Brian Mayes. “This [redevelopment] would have a large economic impact, that is true, on the other hand loing 24/7 access at the airport would have a large economic impact.”
The trouble, he said, was that the developer was proposing a zoning amendment that would only affect parts of the land near the airport, called a spot amendment, and not take a wider view.
“My fear is the lines would start to move if we approve this spot amendment,” he said.
The vote was 4-3 against the proposed redevelopment.