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Aug. 16, 2021

Steve Snyder on urban development and land use policies

Steve Snyder on urban development and land use policies

Steve Snyder is a Director with YIMBY Winnipeg (Yes in my Backyard). In this episode we discuss how the current City of Winnipeg regulations affect land lot use and infill housing developments.


Steve Snyder is a Director with YIMBY Winnipeg (Yes in my Backyard). In this episode we discuss how the current City of Winnipeg regulations affect land lot use and infill housing developments.

Transcript

Adrian:

I'm joined today by Steve Snyder, who is with Yes In My Backyard Winnipeg. Welcome, Steven.

Steve:

Thank you for having me.

Adrian:

We chatted about this before. You mentioned not to call you Steven. So my apologies in advance, I am not upset and I'm not your mother.

Steve:

Excellent.

Adrian:

Steve, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your organization?

Steve:

Yeah, for sure. I'm a Winnipeg local who lived in Winnipeg, but moved away to Brisbane, Australia for work. While I was there, I realized that the real estate market over there is a lot different than it is over here. And I tried to figure out why. There was a lot of development happening on main streets, houses getting converted into duplexes and adding commercial units and things like that to many single-family residences. And I didn't realize that there was so many problems with residential development in Winnipeg.

Steve:

So when I returned, I tried to research a bit more and I found out about this group YIMBY Winnipeg, or Yes in my Backyard Winnipeg, so I joined. The group is made up mostly of people concerned about real estate in Winnipeg and the restrictions that are placed on property, like zoning and things like that. Setbacks and side yards and all those sorts of things that people don't really understand when it comes to residential properties. So the group includes people like developers and planners, architects, real estate agents, and financiers. And after I got back, I joined and now I'm the treasurer.

Adrian:

Well, what a fitting guest to have on a show that is called, I Love Winnipeg Real Estate. So thanks for being here.

Steve:

Thank you very much.

Adrian:

How do our land use and urban development policies compare to Canadian cities of similar size?

Steve:

So many of the other cities in Canada are talking about something called missing middle housing, which is anything from an addition to your single-family residence, to a granny suite or secondary suite, to 10 plus units a building. We tend to find that those are the things that the small scale developers and the smaller, more mature neighborhoods need, but they only get either a single-family residence or big spanking new apartments, and there's never anything in the middle.

Steve:

So a lot of places like Vancouver and Kitchener are starting to allow things legally by allowing granny flats. Because by right, you can build a second unit on your property as long as it's a secondary building or secondary suite. So like a basement suite or a attic suite type of thing. And Edmonton in particular, we're really proud of. They've completely done away with single-family zoning. So if you own a lot that has a single-family dwelling on it, you can by right build a duplex on that lot.

Adrian:

Now, would this stop some of the suburban sprawling that we have happening in the city, where we're basically building housing developments on what would be farmland because our in-city or our urban policies do not permit more units?

Steve:

Yes, definitely will. So some of the people in our group, they've come about it from a climate lens where they don't want the urban sprawl, where everybody has to drive. Some of them come from an equity lens where they want more affordable units and adding more units to a smaller lot means that it can be more affordable. You can kind of parse out the land costs into all of the different units. I come from a property rights lens. I don't understand why if more people want to live in a certain area, we can't build more in that area. That's where I come from. And all of those things are the case with our current development pattern and our current rules that basically force us to do that sort of development

Adrian:

I have a bit of a vested interest in our discussion. We actually own some investment properties in what would be considered high density areas, and we purchased those investment properties with the long-term intention of doubling or tripling their unit count, because it just makes sense. And the interesting roadblocks that we've had along the way is ... Well, probably the most popular one that people hit is the parking ratio. And be it in Osborne Village or in Crescent Wood or Wolseley or St. Boniface, where the properties will be situated in a way that you don't even need to have a car, or you could use shared car services, buses, bikes, et cetera.

Adrian:

And it's interesting how restrictive infill or redevelopment of single-family or even multifamily properties can be that really restricts your ability, but also there's a lot of people that want to live in these areas that can't because of our restrictions. So I'm glad to be chatting with you today.

Steve:

Adrian yes. You know what? A lot of our members see the exact same thing. They all want to do similar things with their property investments that I myself, I want to build a granny flat in my back because my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer. I want to be able to have her close to home, but she still needs her private space. And I am hitting roadblock after roadblock, Adrian. It's unbelievable. So yeah, I'm going to [crosstalk 00:06:08]

Adrian:

If we could easily get on a plane right now and jump over to some European countries, I know, yes. I'm originally from Germany and when I go there, you can go into almost any one of my family's homes and there will be a ... We call them granny suites here. Yeah, I don't know what the official name for it is there. But it's just so logical that as our families age, that we have the ability to take care of them within our own homes, but they still need to have the ability to live their own life. So I appreciate what you're doing and thank you for what you're doing.

Steve:

Anything to bring attention to the issue, Adrian, for sure.

Adrian:

What impact do our current policies have on infill housing development?

Steve:

Well, we actually just finished going over quite a few of my talking points for this one. So the current development guidelines and the policies and the bylaws that are in place, they make even the smallest projects, like an addition to your house or granny flats, or moving to a duplex, so much harder. They're subject to these Byzantine systems that add impact fees, or permitting fees, or reviews, or public hearings, that small scale developers like you and I, like we just chatted about, they can't do this, these mom and pop or owner occupier landlords. They have a portfolio of maybe two, three, four rental properties and they're loathe to improve their property because it's next to impossible. So it basically forces those big developers on the suburban fringe to do those six things. Now I have nothing against people who want to live out on the suburban fringe.

Steve:

I actually really like where you're really west. I think that it's, that's a good plan to area. That town center is really nice, but we're forcing that sort of development and it is causing problems for the inner city neighborhoods. So if I wanted to buy a single-family lot and try to redevelop it, it would be very difficult to get approvals for any of these sorts of things. Even a garage might require additional fees and public hearings, which is just unbelievable. So the biggest hindrance as we just talked about was parking requirements of all many single-family homes in mature neighborhoods are actually already on our two lots. Basically it says that you can already build a duplex on the lot, but because of the size of the walk and parking requirements, almost none can actually be redeveloped into duplexes simply because the buildable lot area is next to zero once you have all of the parking spaces on there.

Adrian:

If I'm not mistaken, the Winnipeg car sharing co-op is one of the most successful in Canada of its kind. Are you, in your group of people that are part of the organization, is car sharing and public transit, a significant part of the discussions to move the policies forward?

Steve:

Definitely we're looking at the new transit master plan and it looks like they're moving to a lot more high-frequency along major corridors style instead of the hub and spoke feeder route type of style that they've had recently. And honestly, some of those things have been on the record for countless years and they're definitely need an update and car co-op from what I've heard, some regulation might happen where car co-op becomes a avenue to reduce parking minimums to a lot. I know that there's a couple places in the South end of the city where they've added six, eight, 10 units. And they said, "Oh, we're going to be supplying a car, share car for people in this building. And here's a signed letter from peg city car co-op." I think that that organization is great. As soon as they bring some cars a little further to the North, I will be getting rid of my vehicle and I'll be becoming a member.

Adrian:

Yeah, it's interesting. Some of my friends mock me for always saying how things in Europe or Germany are different or sometimes better and maybe I put it wrongly, but I'm reminded of when you go on vacation there, you can get off the airplane, get on the train, go to the town that you're going to, and then take a bus to your family members. So you don't have to rent a car. You don't need someone to give you a ride, and then you talk to people there and that's how they live their life. They use public transit and it gets them to where they need to be. I guess our problem is we just have so much more space. That's difficult to service with the public transportation systems. That's probably the challenge on that side.

Steve:

For sure. For sure, I get it.

Adrian:

How could the city improve our infill and land use policies?

Steve:

The number one thing that the city can do, and this is the position of YIMBY Winnipeg for sure is get rid of parking minimums. Quite often over half of the buildable area of a lot is dedicated to parking, especially on the bigger, the bigger properties like the apartment buildings and whatnot. So if we get rid of those parking minimum requirements, it would save greatly the amount of money that needs to go into a project, it drives up the cost of land and building anything on that land. As a matter of fact, YIMBY Winnipeg is putting on an event where when you are talking about parking minimums up in the very recently, or very soon... It will be taking place August 10th. We're going to be watching a video of parking minimums and how disastrous they are for cities. And then we're going to be discussing parking minimums in the city. And that you can get in touch with us through our Facebook group, YIMBY Winnipeg or Yes in Winnipeg.

Adrian:

Now the video you're describing, or the session, will there be a video link available that we could share with our listeners after the event?

Steve:

I believe the video is a public video on parking minimums.

Adrian:

Okay. If you could share that with us, that would be great because I could post it along with the episode.

Steve:

Oh, for sure. That would be absolutely fantastic. The other thing, and this isn't the city, this is a provincial legislation, is implementing a land value tax. That is another thing that I think that is extremely important in making development in the city a little bit more viable. When you consider how land is taxed right now, you're taxing both the land and the improvement on the land, the building, or anything else that might be happening on the building or on the land. So if you move to a land value tax, you wouldn't tax those improvements. So it's more of an incentive to actually build on the land. When you think of it this way, we tax things like tobacco and things like alcohol, so that people smoke less or drink less. But if we're taxing the improvements on the property, then people build less as well. That's an extremely important issue as well.

Adrian:

You mentioned that you'd spent some time away from Winnipeg, but you obviously have returned. So would you share with us, what do you love about Winnipeg real estate?

Steve:

I moved back... as I said earlier in the episode, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, so that was part of the reason I moved back, but we always wanted to move back. We moved away for opportunities that we had in another city in Brisbane. And I moved back because just the city as a whole here, it's affordable, it's small, it's very neighborly. I love my particular neighborhood. I'm living a mature neighborhood, Seven Oaks. And I absolutely love it. When you compare it to bigger cities like Calgary or Vancouver or Toronto, where everything is so spaced out where it takes you a whole day, just to get to the other side of the city. I find that Winnipeg is the perfect size, the perfect affordability and just the perfect place in general,

Adrian:

Steve, how can people reach you or get involved with, Yes in my Backyard Winnipeg?

Steve:

We have a somewhat active Facebook group in YIMBY Winnipeg. Y-I-M-B-Y Winnipeg, you can do a Facebook search there. We also have a website where we mostly talk policy and advocacy to city hall. And it is Y-E-S, yes, in W-P-G.com. And if you feel like being involved in this sort of thing, I highly recommend you sign up for the email newsletters because that's typically how we get in touch with our members.

Adrian:

Steve, thanks so much for your time today.

Steve:

Adrian, thank you very much for your time. It sounds like you'd be a perfect member for our group actually.

Adrian:

Yes. I will speak to you right after the episode about that.

Steve:

For sure. Thank you.

Steve Snyder

Advocate

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Steve moved to Brisbane, QLD, AUS due to work opportunity. What he found was a real estate market that was much easier to get things built in.