On September 5, Niverville’s council resumed their monthly morning public meetings after a short summer break.
Among the first items on the agenda were two applications made by movie production company Jette Studios, which, if approved, would provide the green light for construction to begin at the corner of Wallace Road and Highway 311 in October of this year.
In response to the applications, a petition of objection was received by council on behalf of a collection of residents living in the nearby Highlands development.
The first application submitted by Jette Studios included a request to construct two soundstage warehouses on the site. The second application asked for a zoning variation which would allow for at least one of the buildings to be constructed to a height of 50 feet.
In terms of traditional standards for commercial buildings, this would equate to a four-storey building.
Niverville resident Kyle Bially attended the meeting as a representative of Jette Studios’ proprietor, Juliette Hagopian. Bially has been contracted by Hagopian to serve as a local consultant and liaison for the Niverville venture.
The petition of objection was signed by a total of 11 residents all with west-facing properties and whose views, they believed, would be adversely affected by the proposed warehouses.
CAO Eric King told council that two of the petition signatures could not be officially accepted due to their late inclusion on the petition, preventing town staff from verifying them in time for the meeting.
A letter from local resident Shaun Macsymic accompanied the petition.
“To put this [proposal] into perspective, the average hydro pole is 40 feet tall and this is ten feet higher,” the letter read. “This will make our residential neighbourhood feel more like an industrial zone.”
According to Macsymic, other concerns shared by the petitioners included the potential for light pollution and an unsightly skyline to the west. It would also be precedent-setting for other similar-sized highrises in the community’s future.
“We thought the intentions were to build a studio… that utilizes a large screen to shoot movies rather than having to support large movie sets,” the letter continued. “So why the need for a large warehouse? Yes, the movie industry will bring economic spinoffs to the area, but keep in mind who was here first.”
Bially was glad to add some clarity to the studio’s need for a 50-foot clearance.
“The movie screen itself is a minimum of 30 feet high,” Bially told council. “In order to successfully produce movies in this building, we need a 50-foot clearance height to be able to get in props and things. This is kind of crucial to the [studio’s] development.”
Because of the height requirement, Bially felt confident that the outside perimeter of town was the most strategic location for such an endeavour.
Deputy mayor Chris Wiebe queried Bially on plans for the exterior façade of the building, which is expected to be of concrete construction.
“It is the entrance to our town,” Wiebe told Bially. “It’s going to be one big billboard and so the aesthetics… are very important.”
Councillor Maegan Beasant echoed that concern.
“While Niverville is growing and we’re all excited about it, we also really like our small-town charm,” Beasant said. “So the best way to try and keep that [aesthetic] is what we’re all looking for.”
Bially indicated that the pre-cast design of the building will lend itself well to a painted exterior, which should help mitigate the appearance of what could otherwise look like a giant concrete block on the prairies.
“It is a large box, but it can be done aesthetically,” said Bially.
He further suggested that there is an interest in considering recommendations from locals on the building’s finish.
Councillor Nathan Dueck added that he’d been fielding similar complaints from residents of The Highlands for some time now. He recommended to Bially that Jette Studios plan to make direct contact with the affected residents in order to help allay their concerns.
“Not knowing what’s going on in their backyard creates a lot of anxiety and concerns that potentially might have been mitigated by having a conversation with them ahead of time,” Dueck told Bially.
Bially agreed but acknowledged the difficulty of offering reassurances to residents until this point, since the whole project had run into some critical roadblocks which made its very existence at times seem untenable.
“There was some risk to the movie studio not coming to Niverville, so we were trying to [err on the side] of caution,” Bially said frankly.
Council passed both the conditional use and variance applications with a majority vote with the exception of Mayor Myron Dyck, who was not present at the meeting.
Following the meeting, Bially told The Citizen that the newest plan for a pre-cast concrete warehouse will replace Jette Studios’ initial proposal for an inflatable tent-like popup. The popup, he said, just isn’t a viable option in Manitoba’s harsh winter climate.