Winnipeg City Council will decide Thursday whether a planned residential development near the airport should go to a public hearing, one the airport warns could threaten its status as a 24-hour operation.
The development could potentially see a new residential and business community built under the flight path of Winnipeg’s runway 13. The area covered by the Airport Vicinity Protection Area is currently home to Polo Park, the region’s largest shopping centre, and the former Winnipeg Stadium.
Council is being asked to give first reading to a bylaw change governing development in the area, over the airport’s objections. The move comes after several delays by a council committee hoping the developer, Cadillac-Fairview, and the airport could reach an agreement on how to proceed.
After what both sides described as “cordial” talks, they could not resolve the impasse.
The stakes are high for the airport, which bills itself as a Canadian cargo hub.
“It’s important to think about where we’re going as a community,” Tyler McAfee, Winnipeg Airport Authority’s Vice-President of Communications and Government Relations, told a council committee on November 12.
“We are the busiest airport in Canada for freighter flights, and that means we’re the busiest city in Canada for air cargo flights,” he said, noting Cargojet’s hub in the Manitoba capital and a $30 million investment by the federal government into a new air cargo facility at the airport.
“The situation that’s being discussed today is going to have a significant risk to the ongoing contributions of the airport to our economy,” he said.
Noise is typically the most important environmental concern an airport can face. Departing jets passing overhead are loud, and despite technological leaps, they still have the power to rattle windows and upset residents, particularly at night when cargo flights are most active.
Usually, governments deal with the issue by keeping residents away from airports, though as a last resort they can require developers to build in measures to reduce the noise.
McAfee said it was a hot topic of conversation at a recent meeting of airport executives. “Airport after airport talked about mistakes that had been made in their communities and the friction that is resulting today because of those decisions.
“It’s citizen groups that are forming, it’s apps where you can lodge complaints, it’s lawsuits that are happening, it’s flight restrictions,” he said. “It’s what insufficient planning looks like.”
When the two sides could not reach an agreement, Cadillac-Fairview asked council to send the matter to a public hearing.
“If this plan is amended, the next one will come, and then another one after that,” he said, noting another developer has already expressed an interest in building nearby.
WATCH: Tyler McAfee of the Winnipeg Airport Authority speaking with the city’s Executive Committee.
McAfee instead proposed reviewing the entire AVPA plan with input from the city, developers and the airport, rather than taking a piecemeal approach that could undermine the area’s noise protections one development at a time. A year-long process the airport would be willing to help fund.
“We are going to end up with a new plan,” he said. “Either we’re going to get there through spot amendments in this ad-hoc basis, or we’re going to get there through a planned process that looks at the science, that gives everyone the opportunity to be involved in that.
“So at the end of this, we’re going to end up with a new plan, either way.”