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Winnipeg mayor’s inner circle approves zoning changes for housing funding

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham’s inner circle has voted in favour of a package of sweeping changes to land-use rules that could make it easier for developers to build more housing in Winnipeg, despite concerns over the way the federal government had imposed the changes.

The executive policy committee approved changes to loosen zoning rules, which Ottawa has made a condition for approving the city’s $192-million application to the federal Housing Accelerator Fund.

The committee voted 5-1 Tuesday to amend Winnipeg’s application to the federal housing fund, promising to allow construction of fourplexes citywide and up to a height of four storeys anywhere within 800 metres of frequent transit routes, among other changes to the city’s bylaws. 

Gillingham expressed unease about how Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser had made housing funding conditional on the city agreeing to amend its zoning rules.

“We are in desperate need of housing,” Gillingham said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The funding would leverage several times the amount of private investment into housing construction, leading to the creation of thousands of units, he said.

“Do I like the way the federal government has said, ‘you shall do this?’ No, I don’t, quite frankly. But that’s where we’re at today.”

Among the changes, the rules would allow “as-of-right” construction of up to four units per lot citywide, meaning property owners would not have to apply for rezoning and go through a public hearing.

Possible exemptions could be made for heritage conservation districts like Crescentwood and Armstrong’s Point.

‘Very flawed process’: Mayes

The committee heard concerns from some residents like Ray Hesslein, who lives in Glenwood. He raised alarm that the plan would take away the right to appeal developments.

“The right of appeal of these variances is the only means by which residents could try to improve the infill,” Hesslein told the committee.

West Broadway resident Brian Pincott, however, cheered on the proposal.

“Cities grow, change, evolve over time,” he told reporters. 

Pincott previously served as a city councillor in Calgary before moving to Winnipeg in 2019.

“What this is doing is to say what [a city] can grow and change over time into is expanded a little bit.”

Waverley West Coun. Janice Lukes enthusiastically supported the proposal.

“We have to be bold in what we’re doing going forward,” Lukes said during the meeting.

But St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes, who cast the lone vote against it at Tuesday’s meeting, has vocally opposed the proposal.

“I just think that this is a very flawed process and I think it’s very top-down from the federal government,” he told reporters before the vote.

Gillingham tried to ease some concerns about how quickly change would come.

“It’s not like we would adopt something today … and then suddenly overnight the city would be filled with four-storey fourplexes everywhere. That’s simply not the case,” he said.

The proposed zoning changes now go to full Winnipeg city council for a vote next week.

Other cities had their funding for the federal housing fund approved after making the changes. On Tuesday, Calgary received more than $220 million.

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