Editorial

With permits for new housing up 150 per cent over last year, the substantial surge should focus attention on a contentious question coming before city council: where will new homes be built? The answer is key to the future of residential planning in Winnipeg.

With permits for new housing up 150 per cent over last year, the substantial surge should focus attention on a contentious question coming before city council: where will new homes be built? The answer is key to the future of residential planning in Winnipeg.

City planners hope the answer is infill. The city’s long-term plan is to encourage densification within the city and discourage people from building in satellite subdivisions that will be costly for the city to service.

Proposed changes to infill rules will 'kill the city's plan for density,' developer says

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JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS						</p>																	<p>Nigel Furgus, president of Paragon Design Build, outside one of their recent infill projects on McMillan Avenue in Winnipeg.						</p>
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Nigel Furgus, president of Paragon Design Build, outside one of their recent infill projects on McMillan Avenue in Winnipeg.

Posted: 4:00 AM Apr. 20, 2021

SOME developers are lashing out against “last-minute” additions to residential infill guidelines, alleging the proposed changes threaten their industry and Winnipeg’s growth.

By contrast, a city councillor argues those very same rules reflect feedback from hundreds of Winnipeggers who live near infill projects.

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But the path to increased infill housing detoured into a pothole of perplexity last week, with the introduction of proposed changes to residential infill guidelines. One proposed change would allow only two residential infill developments per block per year. A second proposal would seem to make the developers responsible for paving gravel lanes abutting some infill projects.

These proposals were unexpected additions to the updating of guidelines that began in September 2019, with the aim of governing the height and character of infill development to fit better with surrounding neighbourhoods.

Faced with the new proposals, the city’s property and development committee postponed its vote to allow for feedback. Judging by past public discussions of infill, such feedback will be pointed and polarizing between housing developers and the residents of neighbourhoods targeted for infill.

Several developers have already reacted publicly, saying the new proposals would hike the cost of projects and lessen the financial incentive to build infill. Some predict the changes will freeze infill development. One even said, "This will effectively kill the city’s plan for density." Let’s hope he’s wrong.

It’s in the best interest of Winnipeg that the growth of the city be accommodated without expanding infrastructure and services to new subdivisions on the outskirts. Developers already pay initially for some services within new subdivisions, but taxes from residents of new developments aren’t enough to maintain and replace infrastructure. The added costs are left with the city, which is already unable to afford timely and complete maintenance of the current infrastructure within the city proper.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Infill housing is a key element of the city’s urban densification strategy.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Infill housing is a key element of the city’s urban densification strategy.

The city tried another way of paying for subdivisions in outlying areas in 2017, by implementing a so-called impact fee on such developments. But a court ruled last July the fees are not within the city’s legal jurisdiction, which forced the city to return the money to developers.

A potentially game-changing wild card in residential housing is the provincial government, which is in the process of giving itself more power over the planning of Winnipeg and other municipalities. Bill 37, the controversial Planning Amendment and City of Winnipeg Charter Amendment Act, is set to become law, giving a board of political appointees the power to override planning decisions made by elected municipal councils — a move some municipal observers have called an attack on local democracy.

Meanwhile, as politicians debate jurisdiction, the advent of building season means it’s time to put shovels in the ground.

It’s understandable that some councillors are fielding calls from concerned constituents who live near proposed infill developments, but it’s important council not be diverted from the main goal of getting more taxpaying homeowners to pay for the infrastructure that already exists. That means promoting inward growth.

An oft-repeated mantra of real-estate professionals is that the three most important factors deciding a house’s value are location, location, location. It’s advice councillors should follow as they craft the rules that will influence urban planning in Winnipeg: whether new homes are a boon or a blemish to city finances depends very much on location, location, location.