Noise rules need to be rewritten before Polo Park development: Winnipeg Airport Authority

This is the second in a two-part series on development challenges in St. James. Read part 1 here. 

The Winnipeg Airport Authority is not opposed to new residential builds near Polo Park outright, the authority’s CEO said, but the noise rules in the airport’s vicinity need to be reexamined before piecemeal developments are approved.

A proposal by Shindico Development and Cadillac Fairview to construct a series of commercial and residential high and low-rise buildings around the mall could stifle the 24-hour operations of Richardson International Airport if improperly planned, CEO Barry Rempel said.

The developers plan to propose an amendment to the protection area in a presentation to city hall’s Assiniboia Community Committee March 3.

The city’s public service, however, has already recommended the proposal be quashed at committee because of the airport protection area — city council will have the final say on the matter.

“We want planned development in a way that accommodates our community’s needs. That’s really what it’s about,” Rempel told Global News. “What we need to do, though, is to ensure that what we put in place protects the 24-hour nature of the airport. We have seen what happens in many other communities when they fail to do that.”

Residential construction is restricted near the Polo Park mall site under the Airport Vicinity Protection Area (AVPA), a city bylaw put into place in 1995.

The AVPA is meant to “protect the 24-hour air operations of the airport by limiting residential noise complaints.”

Rempel wants to see the areas where residential builds are restricted or prohibited either reexamined — to extend or reduce the restricted areas depending on the newest flight noise data to allow further development — or left alone.

“Some airplanes are quieter today. But we have a lot more of them. What does the science show us?” Rempel said. “How does that apply to changing the current legislation to allow development?”

Rempel worries allowing projects to move forward on a case-by-case basis would poke holes in the existing restrictions, rather than allowing for cohesive development plans.

“We’re going to have a new … protection area over the next couple of years. It’s going to happen by accident, by letting people poke in and just see what happens or we’re going to do it in a methodical manner,” Rempel said.

Rempel worries increasing residential development without proper study could hurt the airport’s business and potential expansions — particularly its growing cargo operations.

The developers’ proposal could see apartment buildings around the perimeter of the mall, parking structures, office spaces and more.

The developers have said they are looking to not just revamp the area, but to re-imagine the possibilities of the 80-acre parcel of land around Polo Park, from the north side of Portage Avenue, along St. Matthews Avenue and St. James Street and the west side of Empress Street.

“This is a real opportunity for us to add density into a site that already has all the services, already has fire protection, already has police,” said Shindico lawyer Justin Zarnowski.

The developers have pointed to a similar development in Richmond, B.C., that was recently approved, however, Rempel said the distances between the flight paths in the projects vary significantly.

Rempel said the proposed Polo Park development would see planes fly 300 metres above new residents’ heads.

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