City bylaw review now underway

Bylaw 6400, the city’s zoning bylaw, applies to and encompasses the entire city with the exception of the downtown. 

The downtown has its own zoning bylaw which was totally revamped and approved in 2004. Similar to what Bylaw 6400 is intended to do for the area, the downtown bylaw regulates types of land use, building heights, setbacks, density, signage, parking, loading requirements and gets into design standards through an urban design review process. It has specific regulations set up to reflect each of the four distinct sectors: Multiple-Use, Character, Downtown Living and Riverbank.

The Winnipeg Real Estate Board was very supportive of the need to upgrade the downtown bylaw and is now directly involved in the current comprehensive review of Bylaw 6400. 

What really got the board active — particularly its commercial division — on the bylaw was the city’s attempt in late 2003 to do some piecemeal changes to industrial zones within the bylaw. It was our contention that these proposed amendments would be extremely harmful and detrimental to commercial property owners and tenants. 

The city’s rationale for the recommended changes that were not vetted with industry stakeholders was to find a short-term solution to better manage commercial and office development in industrial areas. The real pressure point was the traffic problems arising north of Polo Park Shopping Centre in the St. James Industrial Area.

It was clear to most people that the cat was let out of the bag and there was no turning the clock back on the commercial character of this industrial-zoned area. In fact, instead of rushing hastily into a knee-jerk response by freezing commercial activity, a more appropriate course of action was to develop a secondary plan for the area and then match the zoning to the plan.

At the time, industry stakeholders expressed their concerns and opposition to the city’s proposed amendments which would prohibit 23 types of retail uses in the future, make all future office uses conditional upon receiving city approval, and make such existing uses nonconforming so that future changes or expansions would require rezoning or a use variance.

Concerns raised:

• Existing uses and property rights in industrial zoned lands would be restricted, reducing their marketability and value. 

• The new requirements for rezoning or conditional use approval would extend the time and cost, and reduce the predictability of the redevelopment process.

• The new restrictions would make the development or expansion of such uses more expensive or even uneconomic, thus slowing Winnipeg’s rate of economic growth.

• There was no evidence of major land use problems and conflicts (e.g. traffic congestion in Polo Park) in any industrial areas other than Polo Park.

So, industry players such as the board’s commercial division representatives and other groups such as the Urban Development Institute (UDI) were able to convince city hall to step back and rethink what they were doing. 

What is the appropriate process to implement change on a scale they proposed? Why remove compatible commercial uses that complement the industrial uses and do not negatively impact the area? 

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce got on board, saying any changes being considered must be stakeholder-driven and follow a proper planning process. Zoning should not be used as a substitute for it.

In May 2004, former Councillor Dan Vandal, who was chair of the standing policy committee on property and development, sent a communication to industry representatives stating the proposed industrial zoning bylaw amendments had been placed on hold until further consultations were conducted with affected stakeholders. He went as far as to say he looked forward to an improved bylaw that was straight forward, streamlined and promoted economic development.

What transpired since then is very much what the industry was asking for. They wanted to be consulted on any changes to this far reaching bylaw and have changes done in a more open and comprehensive fashion. 

There is now a complete comprehensive review of Bylaw 6400 underway with a 22-member Zoning Advisory Committee (ZAC) comprised of industry stakeholders directly involved in the entire review process. Their first meeting was last January and three more have been held since then. 

Committee members had a direct role in choosing the consultant retained by the city to draft a new zoning bylaw and zoning maps. 

The Winnipeg Real Estate Board has two of its members on the ZAC: Michael Falk, a past commercial division chair, who is focused on all commercial aspects of the by-law review, and Dana Wilke, a residential REALTOR, who is concentrating her efforts on residential land use and related issues.

The board recently held a meeting with the city and the consultant team to discuss the review of By-law 6400. It was a productive session with the opportunity for questions and clarification on a number of directions and even specifics about how they intend to categorize land uses for both residential and commercial districts.

The Zoning Advisory Committee will, or have, developed the following:

• Approach report — A discussion paper outlining options for a new zoning bylaw model (August 2005).

• Draft zoning bylaw — The text of the bylaw will be drafted in two modules and presented at a public open house (January 2006).

• Draft maps — New zoning maps will be prepared for all of the city, outside the downtown, and be presented at a public open house (February 2006).

• Adoption and transition - Formal adoption procedures and processes including a public hearing (June 2006).

(Next week’s column will delve deeper into some issues that arose from the meeting with the WREB members. For more information on Bylaw 6400, go to