Replacement of Sod – Bridgwater Lakes & Bridgwater Forest
The sod around the Bridgwater Lakes Fountain, the Bridgwater Lakes park / soccer field and the Bridgwater Forest park/soccer field is being replaced this summer. Construction has started in Bridgwater Lakes and Bridgwater Forest will occur shortly after. Existing sod is being removed and new sod is being placed on all the fields. It’s been a long journey to get to this point and I hope these few paragraphs will provide further clarity / information. I’ve been working on this file since I was elected in Fall of 2014. While I am not thrilled with this final outcome – there is a point in any project, that a line must be drawn in the sand and both parties need to proceed.
- The Neighbourhoods of Bridgwater – a 1200 acre land parcel, is being developed by Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation (MHRC). Manitoba Housing is a Crown Corporation under the Provincial Government. Manitoba Housing provides a wide range of housing throughout the province of Manitoba. The Neighbourhoods of Bridgwater is the largest development Manitoba Housing has every taken on. Manitoba Housing’s core activity is not land development (i.e. Land development is the core activity of companies like Ladco or Qualico). On November 8, 2007, The Housing and Renewal Corporation Amendment Act provided for the establishment of a fund known as the “Housing Development and Rehabilitation Fund” (HDRF). Revenues from Bridgwater land sales are deposited into the HDRF to support investments in housing projects to revitalize Winnipeg neighbourhoods in need. As of March 31, 2019, the HDRF had supported $117.4 million in investments in housing projects in Winnipeg. There is no other developer in Winnipeg that is contributing millions to support investments in housing projects. Every time land is purchased from Manitoba Housing, the owner is helping support housing in need. This is significant. See page 111 in the most recent Manitoba Families Annual Report.
- There is no other community in the City of Winnipeg that has the greenspace and pathway network that the Neighbourhoods of Bridgwater has. Twice the amount of greenspace than any other community. Dozens of kilometers of connected pathways to naturalized drainage ponds. It is a spectacular community, that is experiencing a few hiccups in its establishment.
- When a developer wants to develop land within the City of Winnipeg – agreements are drawn up following the process laid out in the 2002 Development Agreement Parameters (high level overview). Contracts are drawn up, standards of development (specifications) are determined, securities are registered to ensure the developer adheres to the contracts, and the developer begins development activities. The City must approve everything the developer is proposing for the development. Contrary to popular believe – developers don’t just develop whatever they want – they are in constant discussion and must receive approval from the City on every project before they proceed. The developer, not the City – builds the roads, parks, fountains, sewers, and drainage ponds and essentially everything that creates a community. Then, when complete and has passed final approval, the asset is turned over the City to maintain as part of City infrastructure.
SOD / TURF:
- The City has certain development standards that developers must follow when they are building the infrastructure. Standards for residential and collector roads, for pathways and sidewalks, for soccer fields and more. Specific details for each – ie: for sod, a certain grading for fields, a certain type of sod, that can only have a certain number of weeds allowed/sq meter, etc. The developer then must maintain the installation for approximately two years, and at that point, the City conducts a review and either accepts or denies acceptance of the field / court / etc. based on the standards set out in the development agreement. I am not certain what years the sod was laid in Forest and Lakes, but I do know it was before 2014 when I was elected. That more than seven years ago. So – why has the City not taken over ownership ??
- The sod laid by the developer did not meet the exact required specification. Essentially, there were too many weeds in the sod. Some of you may recall the thistles in the Bridgwater Lakes soccer fields. The City allowed the developer multiple years to try and get the weed problem under control. There was a huge challenge though because in 2015 – the Provincial government changed the legislation to eliminate the use of certain types of weed killer. The developer then had a problem meeting the original specifications set out. The City insisted the original specifications were adhered to –which was virtually impossible now under the new legislation. Also contributing to the increasing number of weeds on the Bridgwater Forest fields was the weed infested land directly beside the soccer fields, owned by the Pembina Trails School division. The school land was never sodded and full of weeds. They would not bag their weeds when they mowed, so the weed seeds would blow to the grass beside the fountain and in the soccer fields. Essentially it was a no win situation for the developer to be able to keep the weeds out of the sod and meet the specifications initially laid out in the original agreement.
- As the community grew and grew, there was more and more pressure to get the fields handed over to the City so the South Winnipeg Community Center could start programming soccer games on the fields. The City / Community Center can’t program soccer games on land they don’t own. Parents were wanting kids to play soccer in the community – but none of the soccer fields could be used as they were still under the developers ownership. To me, it seemed ridiculous for the developer to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (of tax payer money) to replace all the sod, knowing the City couldn’t possibly keep the weeds out either. I had MLA’s out to look at the situation, the Minister of Housing came out to look at the sod. The City parks department was insistent all sod must be replaced.
- There were many many heated discussions on how to resolve this that would be fair to everyone. The issue went to the top of each government’s decision makers. Ultimately the City parks department drew the line in the sand and said the developer must live up to its contract and install new sod that meets the criteria initially set out in the development agreement. Ultimately, somewhat begrudgingly, I supported this decision as we need to get kids playing soccer on those fields. The cost of laying sod on these three fields is significant – and there is only one tax payer.
- I know in conversations with the City’s park maintenance department, that they will not be able to maintain the fields to the new standard that is being installed – and it most likely will end up with more weeds. Why ? The City (Mayor and Councillors) have not increased the funding to the parks maintenance department for the entire City – for over 10 years. The budget has remained flat for 10 yet the City has taken on hundreds of hectares of new greenspace in developments (Waverley West / Sage Creek / development in the north of Winnipeg, and in Transcona) Every year I’ve been asking the Mayor and the Executive Policy Committee to increase parks maintenance – making presentations – raising awareness in the media, but to no avail. So – the percentage of tax dollars each resident pays towards greenspace is the same, year after year, and just spread thinner and thinner throughout the City. Big problem IMO.
- The new sod will be installed, and cared for by the developer until next year when the City takes it over and begins to maintain. The South Winnipeg Community Center will then be able to program soccer games on all the fields. I am unsure of the level of maintenance that the fields will receive, but know it won’t be outstanding unless the parks maintenance budget is increased in the upcoming budget. I am ever the optimist but an increase would be a miracle – in light of the impact Covid is also having on the City’s budget.
I appreciate the incredible patience residents are showing. This has been a long and complicated adventure, where we all are striving for the best end results. I will post an update on a few other issues (drainage and fountains) in the coming days that have similar sagas behind them so people understand what is going on. Development is not easy, its complicated, and without a doubt it is harder for a developer whose core business is elsewhere, but – persistence and patience will get us all through this. I anticipate by the next year or so, all outstanding development matters will be resolved and finished and construction will end once and for all. Always welcome any feedback firstname.lastname@example.org