Farm land inside Winnipeg dwindling, committee votes for review

The city's property and planning committee approved a report recommending an agriculture policy for Winnipeg and a new committee to look at urban developments.

29 per cent of land inside Winnipeg city limits is zoned agricultural

The Landless Farmers Collective urban farm in Winnipeg near the Pan Am Pool is a community shared agriculture (CSA) project. (Mike Green/CBC)

Winnipeg's property and planning committee approved two motions that may eventually have far-reaching implications for land use in the city.

The first looks at concerns among Winnipeg's agricultural community.

Currently, 29 per cent of Winnipeg's land is zoned agricultural, but the amount of farm land is rapidly dwindling as many properties are converted to urban uses. The committee voted in favour Tuesday to authorize city staff to look more closely at food security issues, establish a Winnipeg Food Policy Council and take a hard look at land use that, according to the report, "could be reserved for agricultural and compatible uses considering existing development constraints."

The decision opens the door for a much closer look at what agricultural land the city should protect.

Property committee chair John Orlikow says today's report doesn't necessarily mean every piece of land designated agricultural will remain that way; 

"We are not talking about taking that 29 per cent and re-zoning agriculture forever. The question is are there areas where we can zone it agricultural that maybe don't have a development need or maybe in the future won't," Orlikow said.

Organizations such as Food Matters Manitoba and the local branch of Community Economic Development support the report and the creation of a Winnipeg Food Policy Council.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes worked on the report and admitted at first he didn't realize so much of Winnipeg's land is still zoned agricultural.

"I do think there is a community of people that want to do more community gardening, want more local food production. I think it's a health matter so I think it's something we should keep pursuing," Mayes told the committee and adds Winnipeg should be looking at zoning options for some of the land in the city.

Old committee reborn 

The property and planning committee also passed a motion to re-establish a long defunct committee looking at development issues. It would draw together members of the development industry and politicians to review construction specifications, development fees and agreements. 

Development agreement parameters were last amended in 2002.

There have been calls in recent years for the city to begin charging specific fees to companies that build housing developments in an attempt for the city to get back some of the costs associated with new suburbs. That proposal didn't get far after the idea got lukewarm response from the Province of Manitoba. Charging such fees by the city would involve a change in the city's charter and would need provincial support.

Coun. Orlikow was cautious about whole-hearted support for new fees on development.

"I'm in support of everyone paying their fair share. What that's called and how that works out I'm not too sure," Orlikow told reporters.

Creating a new committee on development standards may address fees and at the very least will look more closely at what costs the city must shoulder as a result of new developments. It will allow monitoring of whether "obligations are standardized" and "represent the costs related to services incurred as a direct result of new development."

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