Association and board give support to Waverly West: suburban growth doesn’t always equal urban sprawl

Without approval of new developments like Waverley West, Winnipeg home prices will continue their upward climb and 

affordability will subsequently be eroded, according to Lorne Weiss, chair of the Manitoba Real Estate Association’s political action committee.

Weiss, along with Peter Squire, the 

Winnipeg Real Estate Board’s director of public  affairs, appeared before Mayor Sam Katz and his six-member executive policy committee as advocates for Waverley West, a 1,200-hectare subdivision proposed for southwest Winnipeg.

Before the 10,000-unit single-family and multiple-family development can go ahead, a change has to be made to Plan Winnipeg to allow a rezoning of the land from a rural policy area to a neighbourhood policy area. Portions of the land 

are owned by the province, the city, the University of Manitoba, Manitoba Hydro and land developer Ladco Co. Ltd.

Weiss and Squire said in their presentations that unless more serviced land is brought  onstream, there will be no building lots within the southwest region of the city by the end of this year.

Recent reports by the city and ND LEA have indicated there are only 465 serviced lots now available in the southwest, the favoured location for 37 per cent of new home buyers.

The ND LEA report, commissioned by the Manitoba Home Builders’ Association, said popular subdivisions such as Linden Woods, Whyte Ridge and Richmond West will run out of land in 2005, and all of south Winnipeg, including the other popular subdivisions of River Park South, Island Lakes and Royalwood, will be out of land by 2006.

“That shrinking supply of land for suburban development will have an impact on our community,” said Weiss. “The continual reduction in land for development 

increases stress on the resale market and demand continues to outstrip supply, so we’re seeing bidding wars. Without more land for development, home prices will 

increase dramatically.

“And, it won’t just affect the wealthy, it will filter down to other income groups throughout the city — it will have a domino effect. 

“Even houses in poorer areas are being scooped up to convert them into rental units.”

The WREB reported that last year the average MLS® selling price in Linden Woods increased by 21 per cent when compared to 2003. 

In addition, the overall inner-city average selling price jumped 17 per cent.

“With the unparalleled demand for existing housing on our MLS® in 2004 — the highest in 17 years and a new dollar volume record — we cannot imagine what it will be like in 2006 when the only option for someone wanting to live in southwest Winnipeg will be an existing home,” said Squire.

“It will put an unprecedented demand on house prices and be totally counterproductive to what the city and province have been attempting to do to create a more sustainable city with brighter prospects for the future.”

Squire said a housing affordability index released last November by the Royal Bank showed the “largest deterioration in affordability between the second and third quarter was in Manitoba and British Columbia ... It infers our province is becoming one of the least affordable markets in the country because of the housing supply squeeze.”

Critics of the proposed subdivision said during the two days of hearings that allowing the development will promote urban sprawl and detract from the revitalization of the city’s inner core.

“The MREA believes that suburban growth does not necessarily equal urban sprawl,” countered Weiss. “We support a balanced approach to growth — suburban growth as well as infill housing. Suburban growth and infill housing are not mutually exclusive. They can work in conjunction with each other.

“And, you have to remember that it’s about choices,” he added. “People who want to live in the suburbs don’t want to live downtown. People who want to live in Wolseley don’t want to live in Linden Woods.

“Money and investment is very liquid. If opportunities aren’t available for development in Winnipeg that support the lifestyle preferred by home buyers, they will look somewhere else,” Weiss added, which includes the municipalities immediately surrounding the city. “They will vote with their feet.”

Weiss said opponents of new development are operating on an “incorrect premise — that you can force people to live in a certain area.

“Infill housing should be encouraged through positive incentives — not through negative incentives. A suburban buyer and an infill buyer are not the same, and you can’t force them to be the same by limiting their choice. They will just go elsewhere along with their economic contribution to the community.”

Squire said that different neighbourhoods in the city attract different buyer 

segments, “and it’s not as if one development will detract from the other.”