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
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.
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.