Winnipeg city councillors take step back on infill guideline decisions as late changes anger industry

Councillors on the Winnipeg’s property and planning committee were hit with 50 written submissions and more feedback came via Zoom to challenge new infill guidelines.

Some developers say the proposed rules would stifle the industry and some residents say they don’t go far enough. 

Efforts to re-do the guidelines have been going on for more than four years and the absence of modernized rules has prompted numerous appeals by residents and developers for and against zoning variances.

The committee dealt with the long-awaited rule changes and the controversy by deferring any decisions by another two months.

Unlike projects in undeveloped areas, residents argue infill projects can impact the look and feel of their streets — nagging issues include how high and wide new developments can be and how many could go up on any given street, as well as parking and landscaping.   

Residents who have fought certain aspects of infill on their streets are remain leery of the guideline changes and still worry about the character of their neighbourhoods

“If you have a 30 foot wall right next to your house it looks a lot different than if you have a 30 foot wall that’s seven feet back from then property line,” said Ray Hesslein of the Glenwood Neighbourhood Association 

Developers and some environmental activists believe older communities that are more dense will ease pressure on the city’s infrastructure and help Winnipeg meet climate change goals. 

Despite a long process of open houses, workshops and surveys, some relatively late changes to the proposed guidelines angered a number of stakeholders.

Changes would kill infill industry: developer

Those changes include restricting the amount of parking on building lots to 25 per cent of the size of the property and limiting the number of projects on a specific block to two in a year and a moratorium on building on properties with gravel or mud back lanes. 

Janelle Brown of Paragon Design Build told the committee infill developers had made numerous concessions on the guidelines but the added changes would “kill” the industry. (Youtube/city of Winnipeg )

Janelle Brown with Paragon Design Build said it would jeopardize many of the projects her company is considering and told the committee developers have already made numerous concessions. 

“We have accepted lower building heights, narrower buildings, shallower basements, less parking, smaller units and limits to where certain structures can be,” Brown said, describing them as a long series of compromises and concessions on the part of developers. 

“These changes were made without consultation… it will kill the infill industry in Winnipeg,” Brown said. 

The development community got support from environmental activists.

Mel Marginet with the Green Action Centre decried the changes, saying they would have a profoundly negative affect on the densification of mature neighbourhoods and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Marginet was on a technical advisory committee with several other stakeholders including industry representatives, designers and, architects that advised the city on the guidelines. 

Tim Comack with Ventura Development spent considerable time last week getting the technical group together to send a letter to the city outlining concerns with the late changes to the guidelines. 

“We weren’t consulted. A completely 11th hour inclusion in our minds. And they are spurred by politics. I think we all know that. we don’t have to sit here and pretend it was anything else,” Comack said

The major industry association —  the Manitoba Home Builders Association —  also fired shots at the changes and withdrew it’s support for the guidelines.

MHBA president Lanny McInnis offered to hold a seminar for councillors on the proposed guidelines and why his association was forced to drop it’s support for the proposals. 

St. Vital councillor Brian Mayes told the infill development industry “to cool the rhetoric” while he lobbied hard for changes to the new guidelines. (CBC)

Efforts to re-do the guidelines have been going on for more than four years and the absence of firm rules has prompted numerous appeals by residents and developers for and against zoning variances.

Some fingers pointed at St. Vital councillor Brian Mayes, who has been persistently lobbying for changes to the guidelines that would restrict properties with gravel back lanes.

Mayes shot back at the development industry to cool the rhetoric. 

“[I] see a press release today saying last minute changes made by planning department. It’s called democracy. The last minute changes are the changes the planning department made after doing public consultations,” Mayes told the committee. 

The lack of firm and modernized guidelines has frustrated some councillors who are forced to hear the appeals without new regulations to back the decisions, 

“I’m done with sitting through all these appeals…we need to make a decision [on these guidelines],” said Counc. (Waverely West) Janice Lukes.