Original Published on Aug 18, 2022 at 13:53

By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

At a public hearing on August 16, Niverville’s town council entertained a developer’s request to rezone a parcel of land from Agricultural Limited to Commercial Corridor.

The parcel in question includes approximately 130 acres of bare land on the west side of town, bordered to the north by Highway 311 and to the west by Wallace Road. Council voted unanimously in favour of approving the first reading.

Second and third reading will be voted on at a future council meeting.

Two residents of The Highlands development were in attendance to voice their concerns on the rezoning request.

The first to address council demonstrated apprehension regarding the lack of information on the type of commercial development that will take place at the proposed location. Without that knowledge, she told council, it’s difficult to know whether she should be for or against the rezoning proposal.

She admitted to being concerned about high-traffic volumes, light pollution, and the construction of tall buildings on concrete slabs which could turn her current pastoral view into an industrial-looking one.

Council set out to reassure those gathered that a rezoning request is simply the first in a process of steps that a developer needs to go through. Without council’s approval for commercial zoning, Mayor Dyck said, it would be unreasonable for any developer to attempt to attract new businesses and franchises into the community.

“Any time a business wants to set up, they have to come to council to get a conditional use [permit],” Councillor Funk clarified. “That’s the time that you can speak up and say, ‘I don’t want that business there.’”

Mayor Dyck added that a conditional use request is also where council can flex its muscles, making sure a development agreement is in place which will set restrictions on lighting, building aesthetics, and so on.

“There’s a lot of people who are kicking tires in the community of Niverville,” Dyck said. “As the population grows… we have to imagine 20 and 30 years out so… where does Canadian Tire go? Where does Home Depot go? That’s why you have your commercial strip along [Highway] 311 all the way to the dike. If you were to think forward 30 years, realistically, we could expect both sides of the 311… to be commercial of some kind or the other, big box or otherwise.”

In terms of aesthetics along this new commercial stretch, Councillor Stott said that this council doesn’t intend to repeat the mistakes of the past, as can be seen along the easterly stretch of Highway 311. He referred specifically to the feed mill and other industrial-type businesses there that don’t present the aesthetic appeal that highway commercial should.

As for why the developer has chosen to zone only the far northwest corner at this time, and not the entire stretch bounding the highway, council is unsure, but they say the plan is developer-driven.

“He obviously has something in mind, but his taxes change [once he rezones from ag to commercial],” said Councillor Stott, indicating that a higher tax rate is applied to commercial land.

That the developer would begin new development so far from existing development didn’t come as a surprise to Mayor Dyck. He recalled that the residents of Steinbach once thought that developers were crazy for locating the Clearspring Mall about a mile away from any existing development. The open space that existed between the town and the new mall, he noted, drove up demand for those in-between lots in a hurry.

“You look at Highway 12 development now with all that’s filled it in,” Dyck said. “Niverville’s going much that way. We don’t know what will come or when… As [council], we are not the ones driving the growth, we’re the ones managing the growth.”

Even so, the resident indicated a concern over the identity of the developer and their motives.

“I’m a little worried because of how far they are starting out and how big [the area to be rezoned is],” the resident told council. “That it might be someone who has a lot of money that’s not from around here… [so they’ll be okay with constructing] just a massive building. It’s very hard to feel great about it [until we know].”

Mayor Dyck was able to provide some reassurance when it comes to the developer, Len Peters, who owns Sunset Estates and has developed The Highlands.

It is Peters’ company that owns the entire undeveloped section of land running east to west from Krahn Road to Wallace Road and north to south from Highway 311 to Crown Valley Road.

Council believes that Peters’ intent is to eventually create a development that would mirror The Highlands in terms of layout, beginning with a commercial stretch to the north and flowing into a variety of residential housing styles as it heads south.

A second Highlands resident raised different concerns about what this proposed initial commercial development could mean in terms of adding traffic stress to the already busy intersection of Krahn Road and Highway 311. Currently, this intersection serves as the primary access and egress for the entire residential development.

Council assured the resident that regular intersection traffic counts are carried out as developments evolve, which is the reason for the construction of new traffic lights underway at the nearby Mulberry Avenue intersection.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI) to decide what kinds of structural road changes are needed along provincial highways when traffic flows shift.

Regardless, it’s pretty safe to assume, they said, that the Drover’s Run service road will continue west to Wallace Road in the coming years in order to prevent an excess of access points directly off the highway.

In the end, Dyck reminded those gathered that, ultimately, what’s good for the developer is also good for the community as a whole.

“We feel a huge obligation to… all the people who’ve moved here and they’ve invested as they have in their home and property, to assure that the investment that they’ve made grows,” Dyck said. “And how does it grow? By continuing to create demand [for property in the community].”

Simply put, he adds, property values will continue to climb in communities where amenities abound and progress is an ongoing endeavour.

Council put the vote for second and third reading on hold until a date when they could be certain that MTI’s questions regarding the zoning change had been satisfied.

This item reprinted with permission from The Citizen, Niverville, Manitoba