Winnipeg poised to approve 6 new houses in flood-prone space south of Cloutier Drive

Winnipeg is poised to approve the construction of six new homes within the flood-prone Cloutier Drive neighbourhood, against the recommendations of city planners.

On Thursday at city hall, council’s property and development committee will consider a proposal to develop two parcels of land south of Cloutier Drive, on either side of Macbell Road.

Developer Fairview Custom Homes has spent the past five months trying to shepherd the proposal through council, against the opposition of Winnipeg’s planning and design branch as well as more than three dozen area residents.

In a report to council, city planners described the proposed lot sizes as too small and suggested they may not satisfy provincial regulations imposed on new developments within the city’s flood fringe zone, where homes outside of the city’s primary dikes are threatened periodically by floodwaters.

During flood seasons, the Cloutier Drive neighbourhood is among the first residential areas in Winnipeg to require the precautionary construction of sandbag dikes in order to protect properties from the Red River.

An initial public hearing over the Macbell Road proposal began in August and was adjourned three times before two members of council’s Riel Community Committee — Couns. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert Seine River) and Brian Mayes (St. Vital) —  finally approved an amended version of the plan on Jan. 24.

The proposed development calls for three homes to rise on either side of Macbell Road

John Wintrup, a planning consultant employed by Fairview, claimed the city raised engineering concerns about the proposal well before that was necessary. Construction on new homes within the flood fringe zone can’t proceed without the blessing of flood-protection engineers, he said.

“If we could not meet the regulations, a building permit would not be issued. Same thing as if you cannot meet the fire code, a building permit would not be issued,” Wintrup said in an interview.

“We can raise the land substantially to meet any kind of flood requirements,” he added. “It’s normal in Winnipeg to add fill to the property and to raise it up, so we’re going to meet the flood regulations.”

Challenges have been overcome, says councillor

Chambers, whose ward includes the proposed development, said he’s satisfied that new homes can rise on either side of Macbell Road without having any negative impact on surrounding properties.

“We recognize that there are some challenges around this property, but those have been overcome with the engineering report that was provided,” Chambers said in an interview.

City crews prepared sandbags in 2017 as water crept closer to properties on Cloutier Drive, near the site of a new proposed residential development. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Jeremy Greshuk, who heads up the land drainage and flood protection branch within the City of Winnipeg’s water and waste department, confirmed his staff conducts flood-protection reviews at the building-permit stage of a development.

Greshuk also said the city can raise flood-protection concerns at an earlier stage of a development. Ultimately, the city must ensure new properties that rise within the flood fringe zone meet provincial elevation requirements, he said.

Wintrup said those elevations are based on data compiled in 1991, prior to the 1997 Flood of the Century on the Red River and several subsequent major floods. He’s urging the provincial government to update flood-fringe regulations.

The head and shoulders of a man inside city hall.Planning consultant John Wintrup says the homes will be protected from floods. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Nonetheless, one of Manitoba’s foremost experts in flood protection said it’s not the best idea to build anything within a flood fringe.

“While it appears these houses would be built with their first floor above flood level, as per the City of Winnipeg bylaw, I wonder about access to these properties,” said Jay Doering, a semi-retired civil engineering professor at the University of Manitoba.

“Are these adjoining lots and road all to be built up to the required level? If not, they will need boats to access their properties during high-water-level years.”

Doering said if recent history has taught Winnipeg anything, it’s that springs are getting wetter.

“This flood fringe may spend a lot of springs flooded,” he said.

The property and development committee, which will scrutinize the Macbell Road proposal on Thursday, consists of councillors who have not yet considered the plan: Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), Matt Allard (St. Boniface), Shawn Dobson (St. James) and newcomer Evan Duncan (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood).

It faces further approval later in February from council’s executive policy committee and from council as a whole.

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