The muddle surrounding Winnipeg's residential infill process is best exemplified by a Crescentwood neighbourhood project in 2016.
Ventura Developments had proposed a four-storey, $6.5-million, 12-unit condo building on two lots on McMillan Avenue, at Harrow Street.
The City of Winnipeg planning department supported the project, citing it as compatible with similar multifamily developments nearby and that it conformed with planning guidelines.
However, councillors on the community committee rejected the project and the planning department's conclusions. The committee sided with area residents who said the project was too large for the neighbourhood, which consists of mostly single-family homes.
Ventura appealed the decision to the property and development committee, but its four councillors were unable to agree, splitting 2-2 on the appeal. A second appeal went to the executive policy committee, which sided with the original community committee decision in a 4-3 vote.
The issue then went to city council in December 2016, and two votes were required to settle the issue. The first -- to uphold the community committee decision to reject the project -- was defeated 11-5. The project was finally approved on the second vote, which was passed 11-5.
Infill policy not clear
Tim Comack, Ventura's vice president of development, said the problem with the city's residential infill policy is no one knows what it is.
"There’s no defined process that is unilaterally able to be relied on by the public and the development community," Comack said. "There is no source of defined information that members of the public can seek out and obtain. There’s no set of guidelines, written rules, that developers can wholeheartedly rely on."
Comack said he understands the frustration from residents, as city hall offers little support or reliable information.
He said the uncertainty surrounding infill projects undermines city hall's desires to see more development occur in established neighbourhoods, adding without clear rules, developers will continue to concentrate projects on vacant land in the suburbs.
“The big issue in the city that we all face is defining what we want and what is acceptable and then sticking to it, even in the face of opposition, from residents and developers. We need a clearly defined process and clearly defined guidelines with no grey area," Comack said. "The public needs access easily to information so they can understand what is going on.”
What is infill?
Walter Kleinschmidt, who operates an international development consulting firm from his St. Boniface home, said too often, large-scale neighbourhood redevelopment is mistaken for infill. While Kleinschmidt said both types of projects are needed, he said city hall needs to define both separately and clearly indicate where each is allowed to occur.
“We need to distinguish between infill housing and neighbourhood transformation,” said Kleinschmidt, who was vocal in community opposition to a condo project on Tache Avenue that was eventually approved by city hall.
For Kleinschmidt, real infill is building a home on an empty lot that matches its neighbours in size, height and footprint. Multifamily dwellings, he said, should only be allowed on regional and collector streets, and at the corners where those roadways intersect with residential streets.
Kleinschmidt said he hopes the project will eventually result in Winnipeg adopting the concept of "gentle densification," which he said has been adopted by several other Canadian municipalities, including Victoria.