Industrial zoning under review

The Winnipeg Real Estate Board’s commercial division teamed up with the Urban Development Institute to become directly involved in the city’s proposed amendments to Bylaw 6400 dealing with industrial zoning. 

All of the board’s  reports and updates on  meetings with the city’s planning, property and development department are documented and available on its website

Also initiated at the early stages of this process was a special mailing to property owners in the affected industrial district areas. In these areas, the city was proposing to prohibit 23 types of retail uses in the future, make all future office uses conditional upon receiving city approval, and make such existing uses nonconforming so that future changes or expansions would require rezoning or a use variance.

In the fall of 2003, the board became aware that department officials were looking quite seriously at Zoning Bylaw 6400 to make some changes to industrial zoning. Despite our sincere efforts and requests to be involved and consulted, our participation was not welcomed. It meant our only input would be at a required public hearing. 

At the standing policy committee on property and development meeting on October 28, 2003, an administrative recommendation was put forward requesting that a date be set for a public hearing on proposed text amendments to Zoning Bylaw 6400.

It just so happened that the chair of the board’s commercial division was in attendance at this meeting on company business for another agenda item. He was able to switch hats and raise concerns about the complete lack of consultation with key stakeholders. He questioned the rationale for pushing ahead so quickly with these far reaching changes. 

Can you imagine blanket proposed zoning changes for a residential neighbourhood like Linden Woods or River Heights going directly to a public hearing without any prior consultation with the residents? It would not happen, and for good reason; no matter what the justification was for the changes.

One of the key reasons for the proposed changes was to find a short-term solution to better manage commercial and office development in industrial areas. A key pressure point was the traffic problems surfacing north of Polo Park in the St. James Industrial Area. It was pointed out that the area has taken on a more commercial character over time. 

Moreover, the administrative report stated that, since many commercial uses are permitted “as-of-right” on industrially zoned lands, the city “does not have the opportunity to review the impacts of the proposed developments on the adjacent area and attach appropriate conditions to manage and finance those impacts.” 

They did recognize the need to develop secondary plans for hot spots like Polo Park and then match the zoning to the plan. 

Another rationale for the proposed text amendments was a concern over the diminishing supply of industrial zoned lands because of increased commercial/office use in these areas. The opposite of limiting these uses in industrial zoned areas was supporting Plan Winnipeg’s Downtown First Policy. They want to encourage more commercial and office development downtown.

The industry response was swift and very clear on what the impact would be if the proposed changes were passed by city council after the public hearing was held. Here are just some of the concerns expressed to civic officials:

• Existing uses and property rights in industrial lands would be restricted, reducing their marketability and value.

• The new requirements for rezoning or conditional-use approval would extend the time and cost, and reduce the predictability of the redevelopment process, and further burden the city’s planning and procedures.

• There is no shortage of vacant industrial land. The city’s own reports confirm a 100-year supply.

• The prohibited commercial/retail uses and all office uses would be “directed” to the downtown, the regional shopping centre areas, or other commercially-zoned lands.

• The new restrictions would make the development or expansion of such uses more expensive or even uneconomic, slowing the rate of economic growth and affecting the assessment and taxation of industrial lands negatively.

• There is no evidence of major problems (e.g. traffic congestion in Polo Park) in any industrial areas other than Polo Park.

Further meetings among industry stakeholders and planning experts,  as well as a review of relevant studies, reports and Plan Winnipeg 2020, fleshed out more questions and points of concern. These four questions were presented to the city’s planning department:

• Is there a specific problem and, if so, what is it? What back-up, report or evidence is available to support the city’s position? At what level should the problem(s) be addressed (policy or regulatory)?

• What is the nature of present and future demand for commercial and industrial lands in the city?

• Do the current neighbourhood and industrial policy areas in Plan Winnipeg accurately meet the city’s needs?

• What is the appropriate process to implement change on a scale of this nature?

There never was a direct response from the department to these very important and pertinent questions, yet further meetings followed with industry stakeholders and the city of Winnipeg. 

A key point made by industry members was that unless we were presented with a compelling reason or explanation how an office use negatively affects planning and land use of industrial areas, why change the current bylaw? The bylaw has in place limitations that restrict height, set backs, floor area ratios, lot coverage and parking requirements. Similarly, with respect to commercial uses in industrial areas, why remove compatible commercial uses that complement the industrial users? The type, size and scope of such commercial uses can be detailed in the city’s Industrial Land Use Policy.

Even the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce came on side, saying it must be stakeholder driven to ensure “that the process of land use can be dealt with fairly, orderly and follows proper planning process.” 

Good planning is the proper process to follow and zoning should not be used as a substitute for it.

In the end, the public hearing was never held. In May 2004, former Councillor Dan Vandal, then chair of the standing policy committee of property and development, sent a communication to industry representatives saying that the proposed industrial zoning bylaw amendments have been placed on hold until further consultation is conducted with affected stakeholders. He further said that he looked forward to an improved bylaw that is straight forward, streamlined and promoted economic development.

A meeting is being scheduled between planning department officials and industry representatives for September to discuss a new approach to reviewing industrial zoning. It is our hope that the process will be much more collaborative, and that any changes put forward will meet the needs of industry and the city as a whole.