Bylaw 6400 requires a delicate balance

During a 1.5-hour session, it became quite clear that the revision of Bylaw 6400 has a lot to do with modernizing it to eliminate many variance applications that unnecessarily delay development. 

In redrafting the bylaw, the opportunity exists for the city’s zoning team — two WREB commercial REALTORS are on the team — to make it more consistent and in keeping, or reflective of, trends in land-use development. For example, where do you find the proper balance between allowing flexibility for mixed-use proposals and not being too prescriptive in outlining exactly what must be included in a development?

Part of the caution and concern expressed about bringing in a set of design standards was how responsive to the Winnipeg market they will be, and could some developers just resort to the lowest common denominator for what the city has deemed desirable. If the standards get too prescriptive, how will the bylaw accommodate different forms and types of development in the future?

All agreed that the bylaw needs to be clearer, simpler and easier to understand. The presentation made reference to how the city intends to achieve this goal through consolidation of districts with less emphasis on the exact land use and more on its impact. As a result, there will be less districts with more conditional uses permitted, however, there will be a set of standards that must be adhered to. Residential districts will be reduced by creating more flexibility for determining lot dimensions, thereby allowing a broader range of dwelling types.

For example, one item raised is the distinct possibility of allowing secondary suites — a unit within, or an addition to, an existing dwelling — in certain residential areas whether new or existing. Secondary suites are becoming a viable and affordable solution to address housing needs of some demographic segments such as seniors. 

The Canadian Real Estate Association has actually recommended that the federal government, through its housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, do more to make secondary suites more acceptable as a housing option. The Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program has now been extended to apply to self-contained secondary suites. 

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is also seriously looking at secondary suites with regard to barriers imposed by building and fire codes.

Vancouver has approved zoning bylaws that legalize secondary suites. Denver is allowing secondary suites in planned unit developments. 

But, in mature neighbourhoods, this proposal was met with opposition. The question for Winnipeg is are we open to allowing secondary suites and, if so, where do we allow them and what standards and requirements do we set in place? The zoning team talked about limiting their size to no more than 800 square feet.

A WREB member asked how to accommodate the additional utilities required for secondary suites in older neighbourhoods if they are allowed.

For retail districts, the plan is to get down from 28 to 12 districts divided largely on the basis of whether it is a large or small outlet. Only the C 1 category would be limited to 2,500 square feet. This will also considerably reduce the number of property types from 440 to 120. 

Similarly, in industrial, there would be fewer districts based on whether they were light, medium or heavy in their land-use impact. Nine exist presently the number will likely be reduced to three or four. For example, light will include limited outdoor operations, while heavy is more outdoor with less requirement for buffering.

Mixed-use districts that are appropriate for areas with varying densities and scale of development will also be included in this new zoning bylaw. The proponents of this bylaw define mixed-use as the close proximity of residential and non-residential uses to one another. As with other property types, allowance will be made for different uses based on their scale and intensity or impact. 

The city has already started down the road to mixed-use development, encouraging such development in the new 2004 downtown zoning bylaw. So, the bylaw team sees a progression to incorporate mixed-use in other areas of the city.

One item that piqued everyone’s interest was the plan to bring in what they refer to as planned development overlays, or PDO. Essentially, this is an additional set of rules on top of a base of regulations. It may allow for greater setbacks or height restrictions on potential development around the airport flight paths. For example, it is area or site specific and can also include a set of specific design standards such as those now in place for Boulevard Provencher. 

While it is the intent of this new bylaw to minimize the need for negotiations, these overlays are going to be necessary to provide the city with more flexibility. 

One area likely to be designated a PDO will be the abandoned CFB Base Kapyong Barracks. From all indications, it will be a mixed-use development with plenty of opportunity for some innovative planning.

Another tool that will be used to help make the new zoning districts for residential and commercial more user-friendly is zoning maps that clearly demarcate zoning and the street names the zoning applies to. 

They also intend to use graphics, illustrations, flow charts and tables to convey a wealth of information in as concise a format as possible. There will be a table of contents and index to improve the usability of the new document. The design will be done in such a way as to make it easy to use and search online for information.

To help the zoning advisory committee and the public appreciate the differences and distinctions, however subtle, between the existing bylaw and the proposed new bylaw, is the development of a list of site examples to be generated by city  planners. The examples will be used for educational and communication purposes to illustrate the pros and cons of the application of the proposed zoning bylaw regulations. 

Some of the areas they may consider for this exercise are in the Grant Park Festival Shopping Centre, South St. Boniface (emerging neighbourhood), Osborne Village (mature neighbourhood) and Charleswood (suburban with opportunity for infill). Industrial lands may include Inkster Industrial Park, an older established park, and Tuxedo Business Park, an emerging one being developed by Terracon Development).

The intent is to select sites that provide a range of different circumstances or situations where there is raw land or a greenfield, versus a built-up or mature neighbourhood. By doing so, they offer everyone real-life examples to appreciate exactly what the impact of the new by-law will be. 

Residential property owners will be especially interested to know how the new zoning bylaw will affect the neighbourhood they live in. For example, how will my property value be affected and what will I be allowed to do with my property?

Some assurances were made to those in attendance that bulk standards in residential zones will not change dramatically. There is every intention to respect and reflect the character of existing neighbourhoods and commercial areas. 

Spot zoning is dangerous and that is something planners will try to avoid as zoning should never be a replacement for good planning. 

Most cities that have gone through this zoning bylaw review process are making every effort to link planning with the zoning.

Reassurance was given that special zoning agreements will not be overruled by this new zoning bylaw. There will obviously be a transition period in implementing this new zoning bylaw and a process will have to be in place to handle the changes to land use.

If anything can be gleaned from the session held at the real estate board, it is that drafting a comprehensive zoning by-law, encompassing a myriad of different land uses and development requirements, is at times a rather daunting and overwhelming task. For instance, are we making provision in this bylaw for the impact buildings and new developments have on sunlight? We all know what a precious commodity sunlight can be in the cold of winter.

The Bylaw 6400 review process is well underway. In January, the public will get a chance to see more details on a very important regulatory tool for ensuring compatible land uses and more predictability on where and what we can develop in this city.