Press Release: New guidelines block Infill Homes

A lot of hard work went into the guidelines. Sadly, they fall short. The guidelines DO NOT provide a framework that supports infill.

The City of Winnipeg released draft Infill Guidelines on Sept. 18, 2020. This is the latest step in a long-term process. It started in December 2016, when the property & development committee of City Council directed the public service to come up with a work plan for a Residential Infill Strategy. The Infill Strategy would provide a framework to support infill development. This would include planning and design guidelines for infill builds as well as a communications strategy.

Work on the Infill Strategy stalled at many points. Low funding and unclear political direction were problems. The public service estimated a comprehensive process for the Infill Strategy would cost $650,000. Nowhere near this much money was provided to do the strategy. Instead, the budget was shoestring. The past chair of the property & development committee, which oversees the strategy, was a skeptic of many stated infill benefits.

These guidelines apply to mature communities across our city. The specifications in terms of lot coverage, setbacks, and lot dimensions for where you can build multi-family homes are very exacting. It seems that the guideline writers listened to every possible concern about infill builds. Trying to prevent common stakeholder complaints is admirable, but an exhaustive approach is inappropriate for city wide guidelines.

City wide infill guidelines need to provide a simple and consistent framework that allow new homes. If neighbourhood peculiarities, including land and lot dimensions, warrant it then more exacting standards can be applied through local area plans. The baseline policy should be simple and permitting.

These restrictive guidelines are a problem. They apply to redevelopment regardless of whether new homes add density. If the strict letter of the guidelines are applied, current multi-family homes in Daniel McIntyre, St. Matthews, and Glenelm are prohibited. This means they could not be rebuilt by-right. Far from supporting infill and a modest rise in density, these guidelines could reduce density if strictly applied.

There is another problem with onerous and technically complicated rules. They create a barrier to everyday homeowners who want to add granny suites or renovate their homes into duplexes. This means only full time developers can have any hope of building infill homes. With added units no longer an option, homeowners will be denied the option of supplemental income for mortgage payments or retirement.

While local peculiarities may warrant some neighbourhood-specific guidelines, this must not go too far. Housing justice and equity has to be key to the Infill Strategy. Under the existing guidelines, it is much harder to build multi-family homes in Area 1 than Area 2. The rationale is historic density. However, the predominance of single-family-only zoning in affluent, inner suburbs like Central River Heights is a mark of divide and exclusion. Entrenching these socioeconomic divides by making multifamily homes much harder to build is not the way forward.

Other cities have taken a more progressive direction in land-use and zoning. Edmonton has moved past single-family-only, exclusionary zoning city-wide. The Minneapolis 2040 Plan vows to end single-family-only zoning city-wide, accompanied with requirements for a certain proportion of below market units. Winnipeg’s Infill Guidelines largely entrench the status quo, with exacting and complex technical specifications required to build any multi-family infill homes.

The City’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory notes that 42 per cent of homes have to be multi-family by 2031 if we are to be on a low carbon path. The City needs much less prescriptive and restrictive rules to meet this goal.

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