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Concerns re. the Winnipeg Zoning By-law 6400/94 Review

November 15, 2007

Chris Wilcott, planner and member of the local An Urban Winnipeg Facebook group is circulating this letter to the Mayor and members of Council regarding the Winnipeg By-law review process (more info can be found at the City of Winnipeg’s website).

Please contact your councillor and the mayor regarding these concerns. There are opportunities for the By-law review process to make Winnipeg a much more urban and livable city, but the issues brought forward below will be major stumbling blocks to this ultimate goal.

(Link to the City of Winnipeg Council page with councillors’ contact information)

 

To: The Mayor and Council of the City of Winnipeg

From: Chris Wilcott

Date: November 12, 2007

Re: Review of Winnipeg Zoning By-law 6400/94

1.0 Introduction

I am very pleased to see that the Zoning By-law is being reviewed and being brought into alignment with Plan Winnipeg as well as new development trends and patterns. It is also very positive that the zoning system is being streamlined to make it easier for developers to understand. The review of this by-law is an opportunity to ensure that the past patterns of development that have degraded much of Winnipeg’s livability in the past be reversed. This review is also an opportunity to permit more innovative development types to be constructed than presently allowed by the old by-law. This being said I have minor concerns about certain aspects of the draft by-law and I urge you to take the time to review these concerns and give them serious consideration.

2.0 First-Class Aspects of the Plan

It is obvious that the many stakeholders and planners who have worked on the draft by-law have put in innumerable hours of time and effort into creating the many policies encompassed within the proposed law. Reducing the number of zones from 44 to 26 is an amazing accomplishment and will ease the development process somewhat for the development industry. The creation of mixed used zones is also another great innovation for the zoning by-law as mixed used developments are a great way to add density and vibrancy to an area. Making provisions within the by-law to allow for secondary suites is also an excellent idea as secondary suites provide income to homeowners as well as providing affordable housing in the city. Also with the demographic trend of children living with their parents longer than ever before these homes with secondary suites may become much more desirable. There are many other aspects of the draft by-law that will benefit the residents of the City of Winnipeg which I think are excellent but will not discuss today.

3.0 Concerns About the Plan

Although I agree with most of the draft by-law I do have some concerns about certain aspects of the by-law that pertain to residential and commercial forms and uses.

3.1 Residential Use Concern

I think that an important innovation of recent development trends has been omitted from the list of conditional allowable uses in table 4-2 on page 71 of the draft by-law. This innovation, which is actually a throwback to an older time, is that of the coach house, which is essentially a suite built on top of a garage. Allowing homeowners to develop on top of their garages, within the Urban Infill area, would create more privately owned affordable housing, increase density, and create more of an ‘eyes on the street’ environment within the city’s back lanes which, in theory, may result in a disincentive to criminals that may lurk in those lanes setting fires to the auto-bins. I advocate that coach homes become an allowable conditional use within the Urban Infill Area. I also advocate that both secondary suites and coach homes be allowed to exist on a single lot at the same time in R1 and R2 zones within the Urban Infill Area.

3.2 Pedestrian Environment Concerns

The creation of a high quality pedestrian environment, being that walking is a much more sustainable form of transportation than driving, should be a paramount goal of the new zoning by-law. Pedestrian environments also work well in terms of generating transit ridership as opposed to an auto dominated environment. Over the past fifty years Winnipeg has seen its pedestrian environments degraded by auto-oriented development, where the city once had vibrant pedestrian areas it now has desolate stretches of strip malls. Creating a truly walkable pedestrian environment is consistent with section 1B-03, (iii) of Plan Winnipeg which states “ensuring that pedestrian comfort and safety are given paramount consideration in the transportation networks of neighbourhoods”, as well as the intent of section 5D-01 entitled Promote Active Living.

3.2.1 Commercial Zoning and the Pedestrian Environment

A city with vibrant pedestrian commercial districts is a very critical aspect of encouraging young people to stay in, and move to a city. Both Vancouver and Toronto have vibrant pedestrian oriented commercial districts and are considered to be vibrant and fun cities because of this. This being stated, Table 5-5 on page 102 of the Draft By-law, only ensures that the pedestrian environment of C-1 zoning is protected within the Urban Infill Area. All the other Commercial zones have no maximum front yard requirements for within Infill Area. Considering so many of properties lining the city’s main thoroughfares are C-2, this does not go far enough to protect the pedestrian realm from strip development. I advocate for extending the maximum frontage clause, affecting C-1 zoning, to all or most commercial zoning within the infill area. It is my personal and educated opinion that it is no longer acceptable to have a parking lot between the sidewalk and the retail façade in the urban area of Winnipeg. Parking can be accommodated behind, under, and on top of a building without degrading the pedestrian environment.

Another aspect of the commercial zoning that is concerning to me are the requirements that commercial structures must meet to have accessory housing built into the structure. The notes at the bottom of Table 5-5 on page 102 of the Draft By-law stipulate that any commercial structure that incorporates any aspect of housing must meet the requirements of either R1-M, R2, RMF-S, or RMF-M zoning. All of these zones require a minimum front yard of between 20 and 25 feet as outlined in Table 5-2 on page 89 of the Draft By-law. This, in essence, creates an unnecessary setback between the sidewalk and the retail façade of the structure that will surely be utilized for surface parking. Even if this setback was not used for parking, it creates a vast area between the pedestrian environment and the front of the building which degrades the pedestrian realm. Also the side yard requirements if imposed on the retail level of commercial district would result in gaps between the buildings, which, in my opinion, are also contributing factors to the degradation of the pedestrian environment. If an owner of an existing commercial structure that is built to the sidewalk, wants to add a residential component to their building, the proposed minimum yard regulations makes this impossible. One just needs to walk through Osborne Village, between River and Osborne, to experience the effect of no front or side yards on the pedestrian realm. It is a much more preferable walking environment than compared to anywhere on McPhillips Street which is perhaps the worst pedestrian environment in the city. I advocate for the elimination of the requirements of front and side yard setbacks on commercial developments that, also as an accessory use, incorporate a residential component within the Urban Infill Area. Cities across the world have proven that these setbacks are not required in commercial areas; there is no need to require them in Winnipeg.

My final concern regarding the proposed commercial zoning is that, according to Table 4-2 on page 70 of the Draft By-law, offices are a permitted use in every commercial zoning type. This worries me as, at the pedestrian level, even if there is no front yard, a building entirely consisting of offices at the retail level is also a degradation to the pedestrian environment. If memory serves me, the CNIB building at 1080 Portage Avenue is an example of this. I advocate that office oriented operations, with no retail presence, be permitted as a conditional use in commercial zoning within the Urban Infill Area so long as it is placed on the second floor of the structure.

3.2.2 Residential Mixed-Use Yard Requirements

Using the same logic as outlined above it seems to defeat the purpose of creating a Residential Mixed-Use zone if it requires a front yard setback at ground level of 25 feet, and a side yard setback of 5 to 20 feet as indicated by Table 5-4 on page 97 of the Draft By-law. This would also create an unnecessary space between the pedestrian environment and the retail façade as well as between buildings at ground level. Creating a Mixed Used Zoning is a laudable goal, but requiring a 25 foot setback just seems like an opportunity for a developer to place surface parking in the front of the building which is not compatible with vibrant pedestrian areas. I advocate that front and side yard setbacks required in this new RMU zoning not be applied at street level, and relaxed for higher floors, within the Urban Infill Area. The creation of this zone, with the purpose of creating vibrant pedestrian areas, defeats itself by requiring the extensive setbacks at street level which are counter-productive to the goal it set out to meet.

3.3 Urban Infill Area Boundary Concerns

All of the positions I advocated for in this memo have been proposed to be within the Urban Infill Area as I feel that the urban area of Winnipeg needs higher standards of development. It is the urban area of the city that provides the most ample opportunities to create a livable, pedestrian friendly, active, sustainable, and vibrant city. It is in this area that the type of city that attracts the young can be created. The one thing in common between all the cities in the country that draw the young is that they have very healthy urban environments. Winnipeg’s urban environment has the potential to become that sort of healthy environment so long as destructive development trends are halted. That being said I feel that several key urban areas of the city are not included in the Urban Infill Area. I advocate that the Urban Infill Areas boundaries be expanded to cover the entire urban area of Winnipeg. This area basically consists of all areas of the city where a traditional urban grid pattern of streets exists. This would expand the area to cover River Heights, the North End, South Osborne, Elmwood, as well as some other smaller areas as well.

3.4 Clarity Concerns

After researching the Draft By-law I found that it was somewhat difficult to get all of the information I was looking for without bouncing back and forth between sections of the proposed By-law. I acknowledge that this is a complex document, and by its very nature require the consultation of different sections, however, I think that it could be made simpler. I advocate that the zones be divided into clear sections within the Draft By-law. This would make the process of consulting the document simpler. If for example there was a individual section for each particular zone that covered the form, parking, and sign requirements all together this would eliminate much of the need to bounce back and forth between sections. This document is intended to be user friendly for the development industry and can still be made even easier to consult.

My final concern regarding the clarity of the proposed by-law is in the bottom row of Table 5-7 on page 108 of the Draft By-law that states that open parking areas for the zones C1, C2, C3, C4, CMU, MMU, M1, M2 and M3 are only to be permitted within the rear yard of the lot. Although I wholeheartedly support keeping parking in the rear of the building, I do not think that this is what this row is attempting to indicate as the MMU zoning seems to be designed to accommodate office parks which in their very nature place parking in the front yard area of the lot. I advocate that Table 5-7 of page 108 of the Draft By-law be clarified in regards to the placement of open parking areas.

4.0 Conclusion

The Review of the Existing Winnipeg Zoning By-law was long overdue and will result in some very positive changes that will streamline the development process and allow new innovative developments to be built within the city. This review is also an opportunity to ensure that the negative development patterns of the past be reversed as well as opportunity to increase the livability of Winnipeg through the regulation of its built form. Every position or proposal I have advocated for have been made with the aim of increasing Winnipeg’s livability and its attractiveness to young people and the development industry. To review, I have advocated for the following:

  • That coach homes become an allowable conditional use within the Urban Infill Area. I also advocate that both secondary suites and coach homes be allowed to exist on a single lot at the same time in R1 and R2 zones within the Urban Infill Area.
  • For extending the maximum frontage clause, affecting C-1 zoning, to all or most commercial zoning within the Urban Infill Area.
  • For the elimination of the requirements of front and side yard setbacks on commercial developments that, as an accessory use, incorporate a residential component within the Urban Infill Area.
  • That office oriented operations, with no retail presence, be permitted as a conditional use in commercial zoning within the Urban Infill Area, so long as it is placed on the second floor of the structure.
  • That front and side yard setbacks required in the new RMU zoning not be applied at street level, and relaxed for higher floors, within the Urban Infill Area.
  • That the Urban Infill Areas boundaries be expanded to cover the entire urban area of Winnipeg.
  • That the zones be divided into clear sections within the Draft By-law.
  • That Table 5-7 on page 108 of the Draft By-law be clarified in regards to the placement of open parking areas.

I understand that this Draft By-law is scheduled to be review by the Executive Policy Committee this month and scheduled to be approved by council later this year, this is why I have written directly to the group of you.

Thank your for taking time out of your busy schedules to review this memo. It is my genuine and sincere hope that you seriously consider some of these positions I have advocated for as I feel that they will increase the effect new development has on revitalizing and creating a truly urban and livable Winnipeg.

I would also like to extend an invitation, to any of you who may be vacationing in Vancouver between now and next summer, to come on a guided tour of the type of development I would like to one day see in Winnipeg.

Regards,

Chris Wilcott

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Going green is more than planting flowers and pruning trees

March 16, 2007

I wrote this as a Comments piece for this week’s issue of The Uniter.

Going green is more than planting flowers and pruning trees

Nick W

Slapping the “green” label onto anything in these days of heightened environmental awareness is an easy way of inducing congratulations and approval from a public whose knowledge of environmental issues is growing daily. This is exactly what the City of Winnipeg did when it released its 2007 operating budget, which highlights, among other things, “increased funding for clean and green services” as a major priority area for the upcoming year. The city is finally taking some real steps to acknowledge the various environmental concerns—a dying Lake Winnipeg, climate change and impending oil price hikes. Sounds good, right? Taking a closer look at the document, however, reveals that the city’s version of “green” is hardly in line with the environmentally conscious efforts that the public has now come to expect from the term. Of course, the lack of environmental awareness at the civic level of government has become something to be expected.

According to the budget, the few items that could pass for being “clean and green” include an extra $390,000 for flower beds, $150,000 for scrubbing downtown’s sidewalks and $700,000 to start catching up on the massive backlog in pruning public trees. Things around town might look a bit nicer, but the actual environmental benefits are next to nothing. Clean? Yes (kind of); Green? No.

None of this is surprising when you consider what else the city has passed into being in recent months. The other major financial document, mid-January’s 2007 Capital Budget was the largest in the city’s history as a result of considerable provincial and federal transfers. Yet, even with the “cost-savings” that are reportedly to be had from Mayor Sam Katz’s new favourite buzz-phrase, public-private partnerships (P3s), precious little money was given to new, truly green initiatives. Meanwhile, the inherently unsustainable practices of extending low-density, single-use and automobile-dependent land uses and transportation modes maintained their strong presence within the document, with the proceeding Waverley West subdivision being the most obvious example.

In addition, the Winnipeg Free Press noted on Feb. 15 that the mayor and council delayed having any sort of discussion about a rapid transit reserve fund until 2008, let alone actually contributing any money towards a fund that would one day be used for Winnipeg’s rapid transit system that has been 40 years in the making.

Mayor Katz is quoted on his personal website as saying that “we all recognize that if we want to be competitive, we have to continue to improve the way we operate.” Winnipeg and indeed all of Manitoba has been struggling in recent years to keep in step with our richer neighbours to the west; even Saskatchewan has made the jump to a ‘have’ province. Their luck to have vast oil reserves sitting underneath their boundaries reinforces the notion that Manitoba and Winnipeg simply must improve their operating standards to have any sort of chance; the status quo has led to fairly stagnant growth and even decline, yet it is the path that continues to be followed.

It does not have to be that way. With its proximity to vast hydro-electric generating stations and a burgeoning wind power industry nearby, as well as a large university population, Winnipeg seems ideally suited to capitalize on the growing ‘green collar’ jobs that make up one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in much of the world.

Vancouver’s traditional role as a mining and resource-extraction city has changed to become a very health-oriented, active lifestyle one. The once heavily industrial and racially segregated port city of Oakland, California has started to ride the “green wave” thanks to unlikely alliances of social justice, labour and environmental activists, who have seen benefits for much broader sectors of the population. Toronto publishes a Green Guide and actively supports environmental initiatives with its annual Green Toronto Awards. The Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario was once a sleepy agricultural and industrial area; it is now a haven for high-tech professionals seeking the quality of life that can be found in the clean and forward-thinking cities, as evidenced, for example, by the council-supported plans for the provision of a rapid transit link between the region’s three major cities that have a combined population of less than Winnipeg’s.

All over, cities, like their individual citizens, are taking steps to reduce their environmental footprints, to use less water and to properly treat what has been used, to combat climate change by reducing the need to use one’s car. The clean, environmentally-positive businesses which seek to deal with green issues that other, more progressive cities are actively pursuing (or becoming home to as a result of the synergy of like-minded people) has resulted in Winnipeg falling further behind them in attracting and retaining the residents needed to drive the green economies that will necessarily shape our nation’s future.

A considerable amount of initiative lies with the public, businesspeople and entrepreneurs to bring about change if and where they see it needed, but the City’s role in fostering a climate (pardon the pun) to promote these ventures can not be understated. The impression that a city puts forth will necessarily dictate where its priorities lie, and whether the city is overall, conducive to progressive environmental, social or artistic work.

Winnipeg, in the long term, will fare much better by changing the status quo and actually taking real steps to going “green”. Unfortunately, many of our policy-makers cannot see past their current terms in office, and the kinds of people and businesses who can help make those changes are not giving us a second glance.

And, ladies and gentlemen of council, please don’t count planting flowers and pruning trees as being ‘green’ initiatives; they aren’t, and acknowledging that fact will be the first step in changing the collective consciousness towards environmental issues.

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An Overlooked Transit Improvement?

February 21, 2007

(This past fall semester, I took a course in the University of Winnipeg’s Environmental/Urban Studies department entitled ‘Winnipeg and the Environment: A Case Study Approach. One assignment involved all class members to post and discuss on a group blog (that will/has been deleted with the termination of the course. This is one of my posts; originally dated December 11, 2006..)

In the recent few weeks I’ve enjoyed some time (maybe too much time, as it is exam time after all!) out on the town, taking in some of Winnipeg’s night life. While always a fun time, one complaint always emerges if I’m aiming to go home after the night is over is that I often have to structure my evening around Winnipeg Transit’s rather limited schedule or end up having to pay the cab fare (which, while not a lot in the whole scheme of things, is still considerably more than transit fare (especially if one is in possession of a bus pass anyways). Those lucky enough to live within walking distance of their favourite watering holes may not be familiar with this dilemma, but us (inner-ring) suburbanites often face this on the weekends.

The last route 11 northbound bus home from downtown every night other than Sundays leaves the University of Winnipeg at 1:30 a.m. This means that if I’m on Osborne Street or elsewhere downtown, I have to leave shortly after 1 to ensure I make it to Portage Ave to catch the bus. And the 11 is probably the best late night route in the city, too. It has always amazed me, in this era of strict drinking-and-driving laws and the social stigma attached to doing so, that in Winnipeg, the public service in place to provide an alternative and relatively cheap form of transportation stops running BEFORE the proverbial “last call” (section 72(3) of the Manitoba Liquor Control Act).

Other cities have actively pursued a system of “night buses” that operate on a limited schedule and on many fewer routes than normal day-time service, giving those of us who have reason to be up late at night/early in the morning (whether for entertainment, transportation to or from work, etc) options. Toronto operates it’s Blue Nights, and Montreal has 20 night-time routes. Vancouver has recently reinstated its NightBus service after considerable public pressure by transit users.

While Winnipeg may not have the entertainment and active hubs of nightlife like those cities have, nor is our population huge, but from a rider’s perspective, offering the opportunity to take the bus at night is nonetheless one way Winnipeg Transit could broaden its services and appeal and make Winnipeg a safer place to be in the night time. And the environmental implications are there, too — people on a bus nearly always means that there’s fewer need for cars on the road.

I envision a few simple routes emenating from downtown, using smaller buses if desired: Henderson, Regent, a Main-Leila-McPhillips loop, Portage, St. Mary’s, Pembina, Corydon (or Grant). If nothing else, these routes can make a very long walk much shorter, or a potentially expensive cab ride much cheaper and shorter. Night buses will not end up “making” Transit any money at all, but are essential public services even supposed to make money for the governments that provide them? It obviously can not be a hole to sink public monies into, but the issue of providing night buses does bring up the whole issue of the provision of a public service as exactly that, a public service that exists only (and happily) to provide that service. Transit as a whole should be seen the same as public works or emergency service infrastructure; otherwise it will forever take a back seat to the almighty automobile.

I’ll end with a lyric by one of Winnipeg’s most inspired and honest (and darn-good) song-writers, Greg MacPherson. From his song “Genuinely Frozen”:

I’ve been away / I’ve seen other cities where the bus runs all night long.

I have too, and it is something that Winnipeg should start looking at.

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I’ll be around now…

February 21, 2007

After a too-long hiatus from actually putting my creative juices to work, I’ve decided to get back to blogging when I can.

If I have any readers left, sorry for the delay!

In memory of the now-demolished Manitoba Cold Storage Building, I give my homage to Cold Storage Man (I hope he’s still around):

smallercold-storage-man-3-closeup.jpg

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An article

November 7, 2006

“Dear Mr. Katz and ladies and gentlemen of the new Winnipeg City Council”

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An Update

November 1, 2006

So, since last time, there’s been a civic election… did you catch it? The lacklustre campaign was followed by a lacklustre outcome and lacklustre results — Mayor Sam Katz won more votes than his three competitors combined (104,379 for Katz vs. 38,227 for Marianne Cerilli, 22,401 for Kaj Hasselriis, and 4,444 for Ron Pollack) and most incumbent candidates easily won their wards. The real surprises (if you can call them that this time) were in River Heights – Fort Garry where Donald Benham lost to Katz supporter Brenda Leipsic; and in St. Boniface where Katz’s buddy Franco Magnifico lost his seat to the man he succeeded in the ward, Dan Vandal – likely due to the OlyWest issue which Franco strongly supported.

Two other incumbents were knocked off — Mark Lubosch in North Kildonan by Jeff Browaty and Jae Eadie in St. James-Brooklands by Scott Fielding. Add to that Grant Nordman’s win in a fairly wide-open St. Charles, and the Sam Katz Party is alive and well going into the next four years of council.

Today, Mayor Katz announced his cabinet Executive Policy Committee. No surprises really, except that Point Douglas’ silent man and former Deputy Mayor Mike Pagtakhan was dropped. As people are already saying, regardless of his coziness with Mayor Katz, he did represent an “inner city” voice on EPC (albeit an often-unheard of one). Now, with the councillors from River Heights-Fort Garry, Charleswood, Old Kildonan, Transcona, St. Vital and St. Norbert making all the major decisions for the next four years, our elected officials may begin to develop a more suburban outlook on this city.

In the meantime, we can only wait and see how things go in the inner city (and, in the city as a whole) … Hopefully Marianne Cerilli’s words at the debate at the U of W—if Sam Katz is reelected we won’t recognize the city in four years—won’t prove to be prophetic.

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Leipsic and Katz: one step further to a ruling Sam Katz Party

October 14, 2006

I wrote on the 10th that Sam Katz and Brenda Leipsic, candidate for councillor in River Heights, were intent on working together, though an official endorsement by the Mayor’s campaign team hadn’t yet been forthcoming. Well, as of yesterday, it’s there:

MAYOR Sam Katz made official yesterday what he’s been denying for months — Brenda Leipsic is his choice for city council in River Heights.At a press conference at Leipsic’s Academy Road campaign office, Katz called the fundraising consultant a positive candidate who will bring innovative ideas to city hall.

For months, Katz has said that, unlike previous mayors, he’ll be up front in his support for council candidates. But yesterday’s announcement, which comes 12 days before the civic election, follows months of tacit support for Leipsic’s campaign, including a recent poll in River Heights to determine whether Katz’s endorsement would aid her.

Leipsic is a longtime friend of the mayor’s chief of staff, Ryan Craig. They have both been active in the provincial conservative party. Leipsic helped organize Katz’s Winnipeg City Summit in May and was given the high-profile job of introducing the keynote speaker, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to a crowd of about 800 people.

The mayor’s campaign has also polled in the River Heights ward — as well as in North Kildonan, where young conservative Jeff Browaty is challenging a left-leaning councillor — to determine whether voters would be swayed by Katz endorsement.

But Katz said “allegations” that he has supported Leipsic since early summer are simply false.”

Winnipeg Free Press, October 14

No surprise there, especially in light of news coming out this past week about incumbent and vocal Katz critic Donald Benham having issues with his city-issued credit card. Strategic move on Katz’s and Leipsic’s part.

So, who’s the next Conservative party member friend of Ryan Craig’s to get the official mayoral endorsement less than two weeks before the election?

The probabilities of a Sam Katz Party-dominated Council are looking more and more real. Winnipeggers should really think how they’re going to vote, taking into account not only the next four years, but the city’s future further on down the line. Do we want this party in office indefinitely?