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City committee mulls changes to zoning bylaws

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Should developers be allowed to build apartments and condos with fewer parking stalls if they offer residents a car-share program and good bike racks? Should smaller lots be allowed on a street of mostly big lots if there’s a small lot already next door?

Those are two of many recommendations Winnipeg’s planning, property and development department made to the standing policy committee on property and development before it broke for the summer, prompting heated responses from councillors.

To change zoning bylaws so they match the principles of the OurWinnipeg plan for "complete communities," the department recommended extending the current 20 per cent parking reduction in the urban infill area to include all mature communities, to permit parking directly off the lane for multi-family development and to permit multi-family housing above the ground floor in "C1" and "C2" commercial properties.

"That’s going to push parking onto residential streets if we’re putting cars on the street instead of in parking lots," said Coun. Justin Swandel (St. Norbert).

"The neighbourhood is concerned about a lack of parking - it’s one of the major issues," said River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow. One example, he said, is urban infill development on Stradbrook Avenue that’s resulted in parking headaches in that neighbourhood.

'Desire to densify wherever you can'

The department also recommended special boundary conditions that are less restrictive – where at least one of the properties on the same street, and within 200 feet, must be equal to or smaller than the proposed lot.

Orlikow said he’s concerned one subdivided lot would have a domino effect and hurt the character of a neighbourhood. Swandel called the recommendation a "desire to densify wherever you can."

He said the department should knock on doors in a neighbourhood with 50-foot lots and ask the residents if they’re comfortable with 25-foot lots around them. "They’ll say no."

For the past year, the city has been moving forward on a zoning alignment review in keeping with the council-approved OurWinnipeg plan for "complete communities." Assessing and updating zoning is critical to following the OurWinnipeg plan, the city says.

Seeing some of the updated zoning recommendations hit close to home for councillors, said committee chairman Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) after the meeting.

"When you see some of the details in black and white you start thinking more locally - ‘How this is going to affect property in our own wards?’ We want to make sure we’re not moving too far too quickly," Browaty said of the recommendations that have been put over until the fall.

'Relevant and predictable'

The department says it’s trying to streamline the process, reduce delays and costs and the number of zoning bylaw variances caught up in red tape that are often approved anyway.

"To the department’s defence, they’ve argued that when the vast majority of them are approved automatically, is it necessary to spend the department’s time producing reports that are just basically being consistently rubber-stamped in some of these mature communities where there’s been a reduction in parking requirements because of other factors involved?" Browaty asked.

"Do we need to have a report each and every time, still? There’s probably a decent argument that you don’t but, on the other hand, there’s the argument that the councillors want to not relinquish that control of the areas where they represent the people." More discussion is needed, said Browaty.

"We believe this is good planning based on decisions rendered in the past," said planning, property and development director Barry Thorgrimson.

"What we’re trying to do is make (the process) relevant and predictable for citizens," he said after the meeting.

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