Proposals for new infill guidelines get mixed reviews from Winnipeg residents, developers
New rules a little too far or not far enough, depending on perspective
New infill guidelines before the City of Winnipeg's property and planning committee would see some additional controls over the height, size and location of residential construction in mature neighbourhoods.
Part of the driving force behind the proposed rule changes is that Winnipeg needs to densify as it grows, in order to meet climate change goals, replace aging housing stock and reduce the city's costs by having residents live closer to established services such as transit.
Winnipeg's Climate Action Plan specifically sets a 50 per cent target for infill development in strategic locations.
The new guidelines could help smooth conflicts between developers and residents as the faces of their neighbourhoods change.
One proposal calls for a licensing program for contractors who demolish residential or commercial buildings.
Another would require land surveyors to inspect foundations as part of building permits for single- and two-family infill construction. Those inspections would be intended to ensure the building complies with what was approved before further construction on the site.
Densification means infill housing, but the city's rules have left residents in mature neighbourhoods angered as lot splits and taller buildings change the face of their streets.
Ray Hesslein of the Glenwood Neighbourhood Association says his neighbourhood — which sits just east of St. Mary's Road and north of Fermor Avenue — has seen more than 100 lot splits over 22 streets in recent years.
The result, he says, is buildings that loom over the existing older homes.
"They block the sun. They block the views. They also result in most of the trees disappearing because the new houses occupy such a high percentage of the property," Hesslein said.
The neighbourhood association has challenged dozens of the zoning variances for the new construction through the city's appeals process.
"I would say in the last two years we've won half a dozen," Hesslein told CBC News.
The appeal process is only part of where Hesslein and his association have issues.
Glenwood was planned under an old parish system that allows property owners today to easily split 15-metre (50-foot) lots into two, making the area a rich target for infill.
Hesslein has skimmed through the proposed new guidelines and worries the neighbourhood will be exempt from some of the positive changes because of how it was first planned.
"It specifically says in the document that areas with that [parish plan] will be excluded with how some of these developments are allowed to proceed," Hesslein said.
Councillor says he hears complaints
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) says complaints about infill in Glenwood have come in droves over the years. He blames weak guidelines and inconsistent application of the rules for many of the concerns.
"There have been some good developers and there have been some terrible ones, and I'm the guy who gets the complaints from my ward — not the city planning department," Mayes said.
One constant irritant for residents, Mayes says, is when infill developments are built on properties with gravel back lanes.
The increased traffic from densification batters already poor road surfaces, he says, adding he'll hold back support for the new guidelines until there is some certainty those properties won't see too many new developments.
"It's a better draft than the one we had before. I wouldn't vote for it the way it stands today," he said, but suggested he might with "a couple amendments to toughen up the wording on the gravel lanes."
Consulting is key: developer
The president of Paragon Design Build says the best way to avoid challenges to new infill developments is to draw neighbours into the process before the city gets involved.
"Community consultation is probably the most important thing in infill development. It's engaging the community and respecting those opinions from the start," said Paragon president Nigel Furgus.
His company has close to $200 million in infill projects on the go, but he acknowledges there are some developers who aren't mindful of residents where they're building.
"There are some rogue developers that have brought a bad name to infill development. But I think with some of these new guidelines being proposed we can see some of these rogue developers fall out of infill," Fergus said.
He likes the clarity the new rules would bring to the industry, but admits there are some restrictions he'd rather not see in a final draft — such as limits to the number of units and density.
"There should be more density promoted. Sometimes how many units you put into that box shouldn't be defined by a restriction," Furgus said.
The new infill rules are timely, he said — along with its climate change mitigation and densification goals, the city has some of the oldest housing stock in Canada. He predicts a boom in the industry has just begun.
Councillors on the city's property and planning committee will have a chance to review the proposed changes to the guidelines at a meeting next week.