“How much opposition does it take to be heard?” 

This is what Eleana Warkentin of 251 Home St. asks council as 43 residents residing in the neighbourhood oppose an apartment building that would receive council’s approval for second reading just one hour later. 

Two properties along Home St. in Steinbach received second reading to allow for a 32-unit three-storey residential building and parkade to be constructed.

12 residents spoke at the public hearing in opposition to the rezoning, and 43 residents in the neighbourhood signed a petition opposing the rezoning. 


What does the applicant have to say? 

Luke Wiebe, CEO of Kingdom Home Building Inc. says there is a growing demand for this type of housing. 

“We have had 0 percent vacancy for the last 12 months at our properties in Steinbach. We have more applicants than availability at all times.” 

He notes this will benefit the City of Steinbach as tax revenue will increase. He uses 55 and 71 First St. as an example. 

Wiebe says before the redevelopment, there were six lots producing a net annual tax revenue of $7,600. Now there are 4 multi-unit buildings on the property which generate a net annual tax revenue of $67,000. 

“This reflects a 778 percent increase in tax revenue for the City of Steinbach while using existing infrastructure. We believe this is an example of responsible infill development.” 

He notes that if approved, construction would not commence until the Bethesda Hospital expansion is completed. 


What does the neighbourhood have to say? 

Jennifer Bergen of 398 Hospital St. says it is already a congested area, as all hours of the day there are vehicles parked all the way down Home St.  

“If we have visitors come over, they have to sometimes park three or four streets away, because we’ve been taking away parking around the hospital- which is a good thing. But to add now a three storey complex with the extra parking that’s going to come from people visiting those people in the complex, not just the people living there.” 

David Warkentin 412 Hospital St. says the neighbourhood has been through a lot within the last two years, as they have dealt with the construction of the Southeast Event Center and the Bethesda Hospital expansion project and parking lot. 

“As much as we dislike the glaring street lamps that light up the front of our house every night with the new parking lot, we understand and appreciate that the hospital simply needs more staff parking, and the large addition is going to be a much needed piece in providing healthcare for our growing community. As busy as the Event Centre will make our home streets, we can understand the business opportunity and revenue this brings to the City as well,” he says. “For the betterment of our City, in healthcare and recreation, many of us have kept quiet in understanding that these things are necessary, but from what we can see, nothing about this proposed complex is that.”  

Erica Duerkson of 271 Hanover St. agrees that between the construction of the Event Centre and the hospital, their neighbourhood has put up with a lot. 

“While the piles were being driven for the Event Centre, I actually had things fall off of my walls. There is mud on our street constantly, there are cars packing our roads constantly,” she says. “I think a lot of us were really looking forward to construction taking a pause after these projects were complete.” 

She also adds these single-family homes are affordable, and it would be a shame to get rid of some of the most inexpensive single-family houses in Steinbach. 

“I am a homeowner today because of this neighbourhood, and I would not be a homeowner if this neighbourhood had not been there because it is one of very few affordable housing locations in this City.” 

Lewis Plett of 388 Hospital St. says it would be disappointing to see the removal of affordable entry-level homes from the neighbourhood. 

“Taking away more single-family homes is just adding another blow to the aspirations of first-time buyers in our City,” he says. “Steinbach prides itself on being a place where families can put down roots and invest in their future, by demolishing homes such as these to put up rental units we are narrowing the path to homeownership for young families.” 


What do Steinbach residents in favour of the development have to say? 

Although all the comments from those residing nearby were in opposition, a few Steinbach residents who live outside of the neighbourhood spoke in favour of the rezoning. 

Harry Wilkens of 401 Walnut St. talks about the issue of affordability that was brought up. 

“If we don't allow for infill housing and we force these potential mixed-use density zones to be on the outskirts of town, it will keep property values lower and technically more affordable, but it ignores taxation.” 

Wilkens says that when you create new developments without infill housing, there are a lot of long-term costs. 

“That means you have to expand the road out into town, take away potential farmland, bulldoze existing trees on the outskirts of town, expand the water infrastructure so that you can build pipes out to these new developments, expand the electrical grid, expand the sewage maintenance, expand sidewalks,” he says. “These things are not a one time payment, they cost money to maintain overtime.” 

He says that if you don’t allow for infill housing inside of the City, the tax rate will go up. 

“And by forcing these people to live in single-family dwellings instead of in mixed residential uses, you bring fewer people into the city at a time. Which means while at the same time increasing your tax burden, you have fewer people in the City you are sharing that increased burden amongst.” 

Wilkens also adds that Canada is currently in a housing crisis, and developments like these help. 

“How many of you personally know someone right now who cannot afford to buy a home?” 

Gary Snider of 534 Wilson St. says walkable neighbourhoods are important to have. 

“This proposed location of Home St. is well suited for this use, especially because it's so close to downtown. It's a walkable location within minutes of two elementary schools, restaurants, grocery stores, banks, a credit union, butcher's shop, our library, and what will be an amazing Event Center. It’s also just two minutes away from a growing major local employer, Bethesda Hospital.” 

He also believes that many of the objections from the neighbourhood are from fear and beliefs rather than facts. 

“Newcomers to a neighborhood are not a threat. They're just like you and me, they don't want noise, they have their own parking spots, they appreciate privacy, and they also get upset by reckless drivers.” 


How did council come to a decision? 

Three Councillors voted in favour of approving the rezoning, those being Councillors Susan Penner, Jac Siemens, and Bill Hiebert. 

Three Councillors voted in favour of denying the rezoning, those being Councillors Michael Zwaagstra, Damian Penner, and Jake Hiebert. 

As such, Mayor Earl Funk had the final vote, and voted in favour of approving the rezoning. 

Councillor Damian Penner says he agrees with most of the points made by both sides. 

“There’s benefits to both, but with the neighbors coming out, I will be voting against the motion to approve this development.” 

He notes that looking at the City as a whole, Steinbach needs to grow upwards. 

“We are looking at our Official Community Plan right now in depth, and 20 year projection is we need to double our population,” he says. “If we double our population outwards, the city will fail. It's just that simple. Having said that, there is also a lot of value of having young families in affordable single-family housing with accessibility to the downtown.” 

Councillor Susan Penner says council has been really intentional about making decisions to keep Steinbach’s downtown vibrant, and says there's a lot of research that shows that a healthy downtown is essential to the health of an entire community. 

“When it came to the Event Center, the majority of people we talked to during this process wanted to see this Event Center at a location outside of town, which would mean that people would need to drive there, it wouldn't be walkable. The cost of servicing would mean the cost of that project would be even higher. So we've really been intentional about making decisions to keep our downtown vibrant.” 

She also notes it would be great to have extra housing right beside the hospital during a time when the healthcare system is struggling. 

“If this is a project that can point people in favor of working in our healthcare system in Steinbach, I think even that's just a really big benefit.” 

Penner empathizes with the neighbourhood. 

“I know change is hard in a neighborhood, I'm not minimizing how hard this is for the neighborhood. Having said that, I think the benefits outweigh the costs in this particular situation." 

Councillor Michael Zwaagstra says there are a number of reasons why he is voting against, the first being the opposition from the neighbours. 

“It's all well and good when we have a few people that come and live far away and want to give their two cents. But I want to hear from the neighbors and I want to hear from the applicant and that's what I want to focus on,” 

He says the neighbourhood made some good points. 

“This is not a run down area, this is a well established area. It's not in the transitional zone. The people in this area would like for it to continue as single family homes, and I do not want to send the message that single family homes aren't good,” he says. “I'm not seeing anything here that's wrong with how the neighborhood is right now, I'm not hearing any convincing case for what the problem is.” 

Zwaagstra realizes that Steinbach needs more housing, but says this is not the place for it. 

“Yes, we need more housing, we need more development. We're getting that in Steinbach. That's happening in a variety of areas in the City, but when we have this many people that are coming out that live right there, and they're giving some pretty good reasons for why they're not in favor of the change, I think we need to take that into consideration.” 

Mayor Earl Funk says this is a difficult decision, but at the end of the day, he believes it’s a good fit for the area. 

He shares his own experience with multifamily. 

“You can have that beautiful close community with multifamily in your neighborhood, it just multiplies it because there's more people. There wasn't an evening that we weren't outside, that people from the multifamily were walking past our street and they would talk. I remember talking to my wife many times, ‘I'm not doing yard work in the evening when people are walking because I get nothing done,’ We just loved that community.” 

Funk notes he likes when council doesn’t have unanimous votes. 

“It shows that council has deliberated and is thinking hard and serving the community as best we can.”