Plan to lure residential sites called sweeping

Changes to Winnipeg development challenged


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A potential change meant to attract more residential development has triggered concerns it could reduce public scrutiny and city council oversight on some projects.

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A potential change meant to attract more residential development has triggered concerns it could reduce public scrutiny and city council oversight on some projects.

“It’s a pretty huge change to our approach to zoning, to just say, ‘Hey, you want to just drop a few thousand units into the parking lot somewhere, go ahead, we’ll absorb all the resulting costs to society.’ I’m not saying we should discourage (this type of development) but that is a pretty sweeping giveaway by the city,” said Coun. Brian Mayes.

Specifically, an action in council’s draft Strategic Priorities Action Plan calls for the city to amend zoning bylaws to allow residential construction “as-of-right” over commercial sites, including retail malls, which means building new multi-family housing would become a permitted use in commercial mixed-use zones, removing the requirement for a rezoning application and the public hearing that entails.

A three-building apartment complex was approved by a city council committee over the objections of some neighbours. (Supplied)

Mayes said he’s concerned that would remove a public process in which elected officials and Winnipeggers can weigh in on key details of each project, such as height, density and roadway access. Until now, public hearings have provided an opportunity for councillors to impose conditions on projects, such as requiring developers to help pay for the impact on roads and sewers, he said.

The conditions could also alter details such as building size and placement to address concerns from the public, he said.

“I’m not saying I oppose densifying some big parking lots, but to simply say ‘Go ahead and do whatever you want and we don’t want any money, what does that mean for our sewer system, what does that mean for our road system? It’s a very crude approach,” said Mayes.

While the strategic priorities were set through a planning process that involved all 16 city council members, Mayes said the wording of this action was not what he expected.

However, some other council members feel the change would mark a critical step forward.

“The point is to support development intensification and also to build things that make sense according to our core housing needs,” said Coun. Sherri Rollins, the head of council’s property and development committee.

Adding new uses to such spaces, including the parking areas that surround shopping sites, would help create housing for low-income residents, seniors and others, she said.

A related bylaw change could also help revamp retail areas that may be ailing and/or suffer from vacancies, she said.

“This could be seen as eliminating some red tape, accelerating housing that is really needed close to where (people) want to perhaps work, live and play,” said Rollins.

The councillor said she expects concerns that the change would hand over too much control to developers can still be addressed before any city policy changes. Council must still debate its strategic plan before it is finalized and consider a bylaw to implement this particular change.

“I don’t think it’s something that we can’t overcome through negotiation,” said Rollins.

Many details, including requirements for developers, can be sorted out through the bylaw process, which will invite public input, Mayor Scott Gillingham said.

Renderings of a proposed $1 billion residential development around Polo Park. (Shindico)

“We can look at all those specific details that are important. I don’t envision a free-for-all on the height of buildings,” said Gillingham.

Many mall sites are especially well-suited to residential construction because they tend to have easy access to transit, retail and major traffic routes, he said.

“They are sites that have substantial parking lots. They’re opportunities to densify our city, to add much-needed residential housing,” said Gillingham.

Mayes believes the issues must be addressed before the city considers a bylaw to put the zoning change in place to avoid confusion among city officials and developers in the meantime.

The zoning change is one of 41 actions in a draft strategic plan council is set to begin debating at community committee meetings next week. Most actions build off previously identified priorities of the mayor and/or council, including seeking a new funding formula from the province, adding affordable housing and developing neighbourhood action teams to help deliver city services.

Pending full council approval, city staff are expected to provide a framework to implement the plan in September and refer potential costs to the 2024 to 2027 multi-year budget process.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.


Updated on Friday, April 21, 2023 8:23 AM CDT: Fixes deck

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