People, Projects, Partners and Process

City-Council-Meeting

It’s not about people, projects or development partners – it’s about process.  Process matters.

Proper process determines comprehensive, solid, well-informed decisions and results.

As a Winnipegger, I was actively engaged with issues at City Hall 14 years BEFORE being elected, and often wondered “what is going on”?  After being elected in 2014, I’ve now had the opportunity to be on the other side of the table for two years, and have truly experienced ‘what is going on’.  The examples highlighted below have been played out time after time after time ….. in every ward across Winnipeg, for years.  People, projects and partners may change – but the process hasn’t.

In my opinion (and apparently the opinion of the City’s Chief Planner), the process related to how we do infill MUST change if we are to maximize the efficiency of taxpayers’ dollars and improve City services overall:

  • We need to grow UP as a City, and we need direction and guidance on how to do that in a fair way for all.
  • We need a “Council approved” Infill Policy.
  • We need CLEAR direction to help Councillors make smart decisions CITY-WIDE, and to provide City building partners with a clear understanding of expectations.

I will be bringing forward a Motion to the Winnipeg Public Service to  develop a City-wide infill strategy with the goal of providing greater clarity and consistency in the development application process and its outcomes.

In my opinion, the actions of some are often a result of the MODEL we are working within:

  • Winnipeg is one of the very few cities in Canada which has a governance model with ‘local community committees’ (even though The City of Winnipeg Charter Act does NOT state we must have community committees)
  • Winnipeg’s current governance MODEL facilitates Councillors to be ward focused first, and THEN focused on the overall City.
  • I think this model needs to be improved upon, and that is why I am supporting the call for a governance review.

It is not just WHAT we accomplish that matters, but also HOW we accomplish it.  Process matters.

My thanks to local media for reporting on this issue.


City needs to build better infill policy

To avoid future headaches, create city-wide infill guidelines

Welcome to the gerbil wheel of municipal government.

At a Nov. 8 meeting of the city centre community committee, councillors considered a development application for a 12-unit, four-storey condominium project to be built at the corner of McMillan Avenue and Harrow Street.

In this instance, however, the project was proposed in Crescentwood. Coun. John Orlikow, who lives near the proposed development, said it was too big for the area. The community committee rejected the project, despite developers having obtained approval in principle from the city planning department, which deemed the scope and design of the project to be consistent with Winnipeg’s broader development goals and policies.

For those of you who follow land-use issues, this is a familiar narrative: city staff study development proposals and vet them according to existing policies; staff make a report to council recommending approval of the project; councillors at community committees reject that recommendation and the project based more on the emotional effect of the proposal and less on policy.

This is the epitome of gerbil-wheel government: an endless cycle of planning, policy formation, deliberation and decision-making that leaves the jurisdiction in question exactly where it started, with nothing accomplished.

It should be noted the committee is hardly the last stage of deliberation for this project. It must also go to the standing committee and then to council. There will be opportunities to revisit the Crescentwood proposal and make a decision that is in keeping with broader policy goals. The big question remaining is why do we have to go through the farce of watching politicians operate in direct conflict with city policy and get to trump the process?

Coun. Janice Lukes, recently freed from her obligations as a member of the powerful executive policy committee, was quite outspoken about the decision to reject the Crescentwood condo project, arguing the city needs a comprehensive policy governing the parameters for multi-family infill housing development. Lukes said no such policy exists, and she will introduce a motion at the next council meeting to kick-start a process to forge one.

“The whole process is way too parochial right now,” Lukes said. “We need better guidelines approved by council so that we can make consistent decisions on multi-family infill developments.”

The inconsistency of the decision on the Crescentwood proposal is pretty obvious for anyone who lives near there or travels through the area. Modern multi-family condominiums have become quite fashionable in west Osborne Village and the pocket south of Wellington Crescent and north of Corydon Avenue. In its proposed location, the Crescentwood development would mark a change for the area. But it is not a change for the worse.

The city’s chief planner, Braden Smith, agrees with Lukes. The city does have many documents and policies governing development and land use, including Our Winnipeg and Complete Communities and some of the secondary plans that look at neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood development issues. These documents describe, among other things, the need to promote increased density in older residential neighbourhoods and add mixed-use development to make these neighbourhoods more self-sufficient.

However, Smith agreed that Winnipeg does not have a comprehensive policy describing the specifics of what the planning department refers to as “context sensitive” infill development.

“We do not currently have a city-wide infill strategy that we can employ on a consistent basis,” Smith said.

“Developing something like that would be a very good first step in solving some of these problems.”

In the absence of a city-wide strategy, the size and design of infill projects is still very much left up to the vagaries of the political decision-makers, many of whom are left to the mercy of aggrieved taxpayers who do not see the virtue of increased residential density or mixed-use development.

Rather than using community committee as an opportunity to inform and perhaps even persuade some of the naysayers, it seems so often councillors use these forums to pander to “squeaky wheel” constituents.

Although the rejection of one condo project may seem like a small event, it is really connected to much larger issues of governance and policy at city hall. Councillors operate at close quarters with their constituents, much closer than any politician at the federal or provincial level. As a result, councillors are often left exposed when a broader city policy runs directly into conflict with local sentiment.

Not all councillors wilt under the pressure and scrutiny of a community committee. But enough do to justify a change in the way the city handles land-use conflicts.

Leadership is certainly part of the equation. Members of the EPC — and ironically, Orlikow is one of those powerful, inner-circle councillors — must remain firm in assessing development applications against policy only. They must lead by example when confronted with opposition to projects that are very much consistent with those policies.

And a policy revamp is also part of the equation. Lukes’ motion to create a city-wide infill policy is an excellent start and something that all of council should get behind.

Ultimately, all councillors must realize one of the best defences in any skirmish is a clear and consistent policy.

It provides comfort to elected officials, particularly those who may forget in the heat of the moment that they are not making decisions for the few but for the many.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca   Read more by Dan Lett.


Developer questions rejection of ‘perfect’ Crescentwood infill project

Coun. Orlikow voted in favour of growth fees but against infill project endorsed by city planners

By Bartley Kives, CBC News Posted: Nov 28, 2016 7:12 PM CT

A Winnipeg developer is wondering why a trio of city councillors voted against a Crescentwood infill project that has the blessing of city planners.

Ventura Developments wants to build a four-storey, 12-unit condominium building at the southeast corner of McMillan Avenue and Harrow Street, backing up against an office building that faces Corydon Avenue. The vacant lot used to house a pair of derelict bungalows.

In a report to council’s city centre community committee, city planner Andrew Ross recommended councillors endorse the project because it “adds density to a mature community and adds to the mix of housing types in the neighbourhood in a context-sensitive manner.”

But at its most recent city centre committee meeting, Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry), Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) and Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) voted against the $6.5-million project.

Orlikow, who is both the area councillor and city council’s property chair, said he did not accept the amalgamation of two plots of two separate lots at the site.

“I believe it’s a bad precedent-setting for the neighbourhood and I believe it’s encroaching down the block by doing that,” Orlikow is recorded as stating at the Nov. 8 meeting.

The councillor, who lives in Crescentwood, also said the project does not fit into the neighbourhood and would set a precedent by building up on a corner lot.

Ventura vice-president Tim Comack said he was shocked by the decision because he instructed his architect to ensure the project conformed precisely to the city’s infill-development guidelines, which identify corner lots on collector streets such as Harrow as ideal locations for similar projects.

“From the perspective of the guiding documents and policies and guidelines, this project is the perfect example of what should be approved,” Comack said Monday in an interview.

While it’s not unusual for city councillors to vote against the recommendation of city planners, these decisions usually occur as a result of overwhelming community opposition. A total of 14 people registered to oppose Comack’s project at thec city centre committee hearing, which took place on the same night as the U.S. presidential election.

South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes questioned the city centre committee vote, noting it appears to fly in the face of city efforts to increase density and promote development in existing neighbourhoods. She also said it’s bizarre to see council vote in favour of growth fees in October to combat the costly effects of sprawl, only to see an infill project opposed by councillors in November.

​​”It’s really highlighting the need to have clear policy on how to do proper infill,” said Lukes adding she thinks councillors ought be required to follow city infill-development policies to ensure decisions are made uniformly in all areas of the city.

Orlikow told CBC News on Monday he could not comment, given his role in the public hearing on Nov. 8.

Ventura’s proposal is expected to come before Orlikow’s property committee on Dec. 5. Comack said he’s holding out little hope that committee will reverse the city centre decision but is more optimistic about council as a whole later in December.

“The city needs to start growing up (and) start providing a variety of housing and types as called for in Our Winnipeg,” he said, referring to the city’s long-term planning framework. “And I think we need to find ways to reuse existing infrastructure, especially on vacant land like this to increase the tax base. We can’t just keep raising taxes as we have been doing.”

Comack was among the developers who appeared before council’s executive policy committee this fall to oppose the growth-fee plan council approved on Oct. 26.


City hall ‘gong show’ needs to change

By , Winnipeg Sun   First posted:

City hall needs to change how it makes land development decisions, including rezoning and variances.

Because what we’ve got now is an antiquated system that allows individual councillors to kill perfectly good projects with the stroke of a pen, even when a proposed project complies with city planning objectives.

There was no better example of that than Coun. John Orlikow’s mind-boggling decision to kibosh a proposed $6.5-million, 12-unit condo in Crescentwood earlier this month, even though the project complied with city hall’s planning policies and was recommended by the city’s Urban Planning Division.

The River Heights-Fort Garry rep made the decision at a community committee meeting. That’s where matters like rezoning and proposed variances go. And it’s left up to the area councillor to decide unilaterally whether to give these proposals the green light.


Crescentwood residents fight infill project

Appeal expected after city committee rejects 12-unit condo complex

A proposed infill condominium development in Crescentwood has been rejected by a city community committee even though city planners had given it their blessing.

The project is a 12-unit, four-storey, condo complex Winnipeg’s Ventura Developments Inc. wants to build on a vacant property at the corner of Harrow Street and McMillan Avenue.

 orlikow development
SUPPLIED:  An artist’s rendering shows the proposed McMillian House, a 12-unit condominium complex at the corner of Harrow St. and McMillan Ave. that was rejected by the City Centre Community Committee

 

Ventura consulted with area residents and city planners before filing variance, conditional use and rezoning applications for the project with the city.

The city’s urban planning division received the material and recommended the three applications be approved, saying the project was compatible with the area and consistent with the infill development guidelines set out in Plan Winnipeg, Our Winnipeg, and other secondary plans.

The three-member city centre community committee rejected the planners’ recommendation.

Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry), who is the councillor for the area, said at the Nov. 8 public hearing into the matter that he felt the complex was too big for the neighbourhood — a concern expressed by three area residents who spoke at the hearing.

Orlikow said he was also concerned the project would involve two lots that were consolidated into one, rather than just a single corner lot, and that several mature trees would have to be cut down.

He and the area residents opposed to the project said they feared if it is approved, it will open the door for more multi-family developments elsewhere in the predominantly single-family neighbourhood.

Appeal possible; more committees to review project

The community committee was the first step in the approval process for the project.

Ventura can appeal the committee’s decision, and the matter will now go before two other city committees and then to city council.

It’s expected to be considered by council either next month or in January.

Orlikow’s office and deputy city clerk Marc Lemoine said rules prevent city centre community committee members from commenting further until the matter is dealt with by city council.

Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert), who is not a member of the committee, said she can talk about it. She said she was surprised by the community committee’s decision.

“This is what we want to do — we want to increase density (in existing neighbourhoods),” Lukes said.

She said city planning documents also say it’s OK to join lots together to allow for more dense development in an existing neighbourhood.

“It’s absolutely the right thing to do. It’s what our guiding documents say, the planners recommended it, the (next-door) neighbour wanted it. So I’m surprised that he (Orlikow) rejected it,” she added.

Lukes said she plans to speak in favour of the project when it comes before two other city committees and before city council. She said the case underscores the need for council-approved, infill-design guidelines that would spell out in more detail what types of infill projects are acceptable.

“It will make for better development and help councillors to make hard decisions in their own wards,” she said, adding that too often, decisions are made at the community-committee level that are based on what’s considered best for the neighbourhood rather than what’s best for the city as a whole.

She said although city planners have a broad set of planning guidelines they follow and offer guidance to city councillors, “that doesn’t mean we still can’t make bad decisions.” It’s what appears to have happened in this case, she added.

‘Neighbourhoods have to evolve’

Manitoba Home Builders’ Association president Mike Moore said he, too, was surprised Ventura’s project was rejected.

“There’s been all of this rhetoric coming out of city hall in recent years of (the need for) more infill projects,” Moore said, adding it sounds like the community committee adopted a “not-in-my-backyard” approach in this instance.

“But this mentality of let’s keep what we’ve had for a hundred years going is not sustainable. If we are to move the city forward, neighbourhoods have to evolve.”

Comack predicted if council doesn’t overturn the community committee’s decision, it will create further frustration and confusion within the local development community. It could also discourage further infill development.

“It’s certain going to discourage them in that (Cresentwood) area,” Moore added.

Smaller complex not feasible

Comack said Ventura’s project, called McMillan House, would have an assessed value of about $6.5 million. The concrete-and steel structure would feature 12 mid-to-higher-end, two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos, an elevator, 12 indoor parking stalls and eight outdoor stalls. The condos would likely range in size from 1,200 to 1,600 square feet. Prices won’t be determined until if and when the project goes to tender.

He said the condos would be geared towards baby boomers from the neighbourhood who want to switch from a single-family home to a condo without having to leave the area. He said there are no other options like it in the immediate area, so the project would fill a need in the community. He said the company has already received lots of inquiries from area residents interested in buying one of the units.

Although the property’s next door neighbour told the committee he supports the project, the residents who opposed it said they’d like to see a single-family home built on each lot. But if a multi-family complex is approved, it should be smaller than the one Ventura is proposing, they added

Orlikow asked Comack why Ventura couldn’t reduce the size of the complex. Comack said the company originally wanted to build a 24-unit complex, but reduced it to 12 units to appease city planners and area residents. He said making it even smaller wouldn’t be economically feasible.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca   Read more by Murray McNeill 


Winnipeg can’t afford to turn infill down

By , Winnipeg Sun   First posted:

The next time I hear someone on city council complain about a lack of multi-family infill housing in Winnipeg and a shortage of taxation revenue, I’m going to remind them of the $6.5-million, 12-unit proposed condo on vacant land in Crescentwood they rejected earlier this month.

When I say “they,” I really mean one member of city council – area Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry), who unilaterally kiboshed a perfectly suitable development in his ward at a committee meeting earlier this month.

“We were shocked,” said Tim Comack, vice-president of development at Ventura Land Development Inc., the Winnipeg company that owns the lot. Ventura jumped through all the city’s planning and administrative hoops, including shrinking the size of the proposed structure, to reach a deal with the city’s Urban Planning Division, which recommended the project for approval.

Ventura bought two vacant lots on the corner of McMillan Avenue and Harrow Street – surrounded mostly by single family homes, but right beside a large commercial building and about 50 feet from two apartment blocks on Corydon Avenue – and combined them into one 12,000-square-foot lot. The proposed four-storey condo would be no higher than 45 feet – well below the adjacent commercial building but slightly higher than nearby homes – and would have indoor parking, accessible only through the back lane between McMillan and Corydon.

It’s a beautiful design, actually, and it’s reasonably compatible with the architectural make-up of the community. It’s certainly more complementary than the commercial building next door or the plain-looking, box-style apartments across the street.

And it complies with the city’s Our Winnipeg planning document, including its Complete Communities Direction Strategy.

The company was seeking to rezone the land from single-family to multi-family, a proposed change supported by administration.

“The proposal to rezone this property to ‘RMF-M’ supports a moderate density increase to a mature community and adds to the mix of housing types in the neighbourhood, in alignment with the goals of Complete Communities,” an administrative report that went to a city centre committee meeting on Nov. 8 said.

The development would have added to the density of the community and generated about $80,000 to $100,000 in annual property taxes to city coffers. Right now, the vacant lot produces about $2,000 a year in taxes and has no practical use. Two run-down single family homes on the land were torn down several years ago.

After requesting a number of changes to Ventura’s original design, including shrinking the project from a 24-unit development to a 12-unit one, city planners gave the proposed project the go-ahead earlier this month.

But because city council has an antiquated approval process for re-zoning applications that allows area councillors to unilaterally approve or reject projects, Orlikow – who also happens to be chair of the city’s property, planning and development committee – killed the project. He doesn’t like it. He says it doesn’t suit the neighbourhood and he doesn’t like the fact Ventura consolidated two lots into one. Apparently, he prefers vacant lots instead.

There was no groundswell of opposition to the proposed development. Only three people on the block of about two dozen homes spoke at committee. One was in favour, a family of five that live right beside the vacant lot, and two were opposed.

Despite that, Orlikow – who like many councillors constantly complains about how the city suffers from a revenue shortage – rejected the rezoning application for no sound, evidence-based reason. It’s a move that took Ventura by surprise, especially since the proposed development was given the green light by the city’s Urban Planning Division.

“When bylaws exist that state very clearly that a corner lot on a collector road should be intensified and is ripe for infill development, it’s concerning that a councillor can turn down the very policies the planning department makes decisions on,” Comack told the Winnipeg Sun.

Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said decisions like Orlikow’s makes it very difficult for the housing industry to promote density in the city.

“This sends a horrible message to infill developers,” said Lukes, who was recently punted from the mayor’s executive policy committee. “It’s very hard to do infill, the margin is very narrow.”

The project isn’t dead yet, though. The re-zoning decision still has to be approved next month by property, planning and development, EPC and council. If the city really wants to expand its tax base and promote greater density, city council should reverse this decision.

Winnipeg can’t afford to turn proposed developments like this down.

tbrodbeck@postmedia.com   Twitter: @tombrodbeck

 

 

 

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