New bylaw only as good as people behind it

Bylaw 6400 is an “enormous” change to commercial zoning in areas outside the downtown, according to Michael Falk, the past-chair of WinnipegREALTORS® Commercial Division.

Falk also said once a new director of the city’s planning, property and development department is appointed, he or she will wield a great deal influence when it comes time to implement the changes proposed in the zoning bylaw. 

“The director has the authority to rule on some of the most flexible and innovative portions of the bylaw,” said Falk.

Because of the powers that will be granted to the new director, “the qualifications, character and integrity (of the new director) will have to be carefully analyzed.

“The bylaw is only as good as the people who administrate it,” Falk added.

The new bylaw, setting commercial zoning outside Winnipeg’s inner city, has been in the works since October 2003. It is a very important and powerful regulatory bylaw for the development community in Winnipeg, the REALTOR® said.

Falk, a member of the zoning committee that provided advice and recommendations to the city for the development of the new bylaw, said the new director must have a good grasp of the market trends that influence the city’s commercial development.

“An on-going education process should be established between the development community and the planning department to explore new concepts and bring these ideas to council to be adapted to meet our needs and our economy,” he added.

Bylaw consultants, Denver-based Clarion Associates, indicated in their recommendations that a “serious mistrust” now exists between the development community and city planners that has to be resolved.

Clarion said updating the old rules and regulations — some of which date to 1940 and deal with obscure issues such as mink farming within city limits — will result in a better working relationship between developers and the city.

The consulting firm, which reviewed and wrote the new bylaw, said it wanted to simplify the zoning process, focusing on “big things” that reflect Plan Winnipeg, the city’s master planning document, as well as provide more predictability and transparency, improve customer service, accomodate more mixed uses and encourage innovation.

Falk said most of the bylaw is favourable to the development community.

“There’s some ground-breaking zoning such as introducing mixed use between residential and commercial development.

“The new design standards also improve upon the image of Winnipeg. It’s a start to beautify the city with better architecture and better landscaping.”

He said the alternative equivalent compliance will allow the most creative design to “express itself to meet the specific needs of special projects. Equivalent standards in the bylaw are innovative and creative for developers.”

Falk said the introduction of new mixed-use categories in the bylaw will allow Winnipeg to begin “experiencing a development trend that has been tried, tested and true in the U.S.A. for decades.”

WinnipegREALTORS® had wanted councillor Russ Wyatt to comment on some of the association’s concerns regarding the new bylaw during a recent meeting with the city councillor. The Transcona councillor, an executive policy committee member who serves on the standing committee responsible for property and development, said the bylaw is now before the standing committee which prevents him from publically discussing it.

Falk said there is “very little room for changes” within the bylaw as it now stands, and developers are “puzzled” by the introduction of certain sections that were not discussed during zoning advisory committee meetings.

Falk cited as an example a decision solely made by the administration to set  5,000 square feet as the maximum size for retail operations within business parks. “That’s virtually only mom-and-pop operations, and the administration didn’t give a justification for their decision, other than calling it a ‘sober second thought.’

“The maximum size of 40,000 square feet was presented, discussed and accepted by the advisory committee and technical working groups from the very first draft of this bylaw,” Falk commented. “This size limitation should remain as written and agreed to at 40,000 square feet.  

“Business needs the certainty that their operations are permitted in clearly zoned areas and their tax dollars are needed and welcomed by this city,” he said. “Adding yet another obstacle to do business in Winnipeg will only further discourage business from considering Winnipeg as ‘open for business.’”

Bylaw 6400 will soon be presented to the EPC. Once it clears the EPC, passage of the new zoning bylaw will be considered by city council.