Support review of Bylaw 6400

This is a follow-up to a column in August on the Winnipeg Real Estate Board Commercial Division’s very active role and participation in the city’s proposed amendments to industrial zoning under Bylaw 6400.

Last fall, the civic administration sent recommendations to the standing policy committee on property and development that would, if approved and passed by city council, prohibit 23 types of retail uses in industrial zoned areas, make all future office uses conditional upon receiving city approval, and make such existing uses non-conforming so that future changes or expansions would require rezoning or a use variance.

Our industry was not consulted on these proposed changes despite our sincere efforts and persistent requests to be involved. We felt the city was acting hastily in response to Polo Park traffic problems and had not thought out the widespread implications and impact on their proposed changes to commercial/ retail and office development outside downtown and Polo Park. 

Note: In fairness to the city, they did recognize the need for a secondary plan for the Polo Park area. They have proceeded with one in recognition of the fact this industrial zoned area has to a large extent clearly taken on a commercial character.

Other concerns expressed by us to civic officials were that existing uses and property rights in industrial lands would be restricted unreasonably thus reducing their marketability and value. We also stated there is no shortage of vacant industrial land as city reports confirm a 100-year supply. 

Essentially, the Commercial Division was looking for more compelling reasons, substantiated by studies and reports, that showed how office uses or ancillary retail uses in industrial parks negatively impacted the planning and land use of industrial areas. In fact, the current bylaw already has limitations that restrict height, setbacks, floor area ratios, lot coverage and parking requirements. A key point made was that zoning should never be used as a substitute for good planning as well as a process that involves the stakeholders that will be impacted.

In the end, the city put the proposed amendments to industrial zoning on hold and called a meeting with industry representatives in September to discuss a new approach to reviewing industrial zoning. This meeting was held as planned and did address the heart of our initial concerns — you cannot single out one type of land use without doing a more comprehensive review on how it fits in and is compatible with other land uses including residential. 

There was also discussion of the city’s need to hire a consultant with the experience and track record to conduct a comprehensive review of the zoning bylaw in a timely manner, and that a steering committee would be set up to ensure industry participation and input throughout the review process.

In early October, the Winnipeg Real Estate Board and the Urban Development Institute confirmed its support of a comprehensive review of Bylaw 6400 at a standing policy committee meeting of property and development. It was on the basis that we are involved in the process right at the outset and that input from the proposed stakeholder steering committee is meaningful and respected. We expect monthly meetings and progress reports as necessary. 

We have gone so far to recommend organizations that should be represented on the committee, including the Winnipeg Real Estate Board; Urban Development Institute; Manitoba Home Builders’ Association; planners from the city and the private sector; commercial, industrial and residential developers; CentreVenture; a city counpcilor; and other key planning, property and development city staff such as Harry Finnigan, Valdine Buckley and Barry Thorgrimson.

At the presentation to show industry support for a comprehensive review of Bylaw 6400, Michael Falk, the chair of the WREB’s Commercial Division,  gave his preferred version of new zoning. He referred to his new zoning proposal as P3 which stands for positive, permissive and progressive. 

These three adjectives have already been mentioned with regard to the new downtown zoning bylaw, so there is no reason to not expect them to be ascribed to a future Bylaw 6400 that covers everything outside the downtown. Clearly there is a need to update Bylaw 6400 to complement current and future development practices and to be more responsive to community needs and values.