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Canada Frustrated neighbour says too-tall home highlights problems with Winnipeg's variance, infill rules

16:40  23 september  2019
16:40  23 september  2019 Source:   cbc.ca

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The roof is too high on an infill home on a lot in Lord Roberts, say some neighbours . The owner of the Winnipeg property where this new three-storey infill home is being built followed city When they appeared at the City of Winnipeg ' s board of adjustment to get the variance , no one appeared in

Frustrated neighbour says too - tall home highlights problems with Winnipeg ' s variance , infill rules . One reason frequently given for encouraging new infill is Winnipeg ' s aging housing stock. Reality check: Winnipeg is a young city, with young housing.

a sign in front of a house: The owner of the Winnipeg property where this new three-storey infill home is being built followed city procedures. But neighbours say it's too tall for the area. © John Einarson/CBC The owner of the Winnipeg property where this new three-storey infill home is being built followed city procedures. But neighbours say it's too tall for the area.

The sun sets earlier these days in Michelle Arnal's back yard.

It is the height of a home going up on a recently subdivided lot next door to her house on Rosedale Avenue that makes shadows fall around 4 p.m., she says.

"I lose about four hours of sun every day," Arnal told CBC News. "I feel all the homes should be in line with each other. I feel like nobody's privacy should be taken away from them. I feel totally violated in my own backyard."

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The three-storey building going up on the street in Winnipeg's Lord Roberts neighbourhood is noticeably taller than the houses nearby.

The property owners are building a 3,240-square-foot home and followed all the proper procedures, obtaining a variance in November 2016 to subdivide their property into two lots.

When they appeared at the City of Winnipeg's board of adjustment to get the variance, no one appeared in opposition.

After some delays getting plans and contractors on board, they applied for, and received, the appropriate building permits and started construction.

One of the property owners building the new home told CBC News they love the area and don't want to make enemies with their neighbours, but said if there were objections to what they were building, the residents on the street could have raised them at the board of adjustment hearing.

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The City of Winnipeg put up a sign on the property in advance, announcing the proposed lot split and advertising the date of the public hearing.

The city has promised to change its rules on infill housing, but the review of its policies has just begun.

That sign wasn't enough, says Arnal, and she's started a petition among her neighbours to get the city to improve the way it communicates proposed plans for potential developments.

"We should have been alerted. … Anybody within a 200-foot radius of anything that is going up with any sort of variances should be notified. We all should have been notified with ample opportunity to protest this," Arnal says.

The 20–year Rosedale Avenue resident says neighbours should get details of applications for construction in the mail, and the city needs better signage announcing hearings.

a man wearing glasses: Michelle Arnal says she doesn't blame the owner of the property next to her home, where a new three-storey house is being built, but says she would have fought against it if she knew the size of building. © John Einarson/CBC Michelle Arnal says she doesn't blame the owner of the property next to her home, where a new three-storey house is being built, but says she would have fought against it if she knew the size of building.

She doesn't blame her neighbours for building the home — far from it, in fact.

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"God no. If I had the money, I would have probably done something similar. But there are rules in place. There are bylaws in place. I didn't think something like this was possible."

In issuing the variance, she says, either the planner or the board of adjustment didn't follow the rules laid out by the city. She quotes a section of the City of Winnipeg Charter Act that says approval will be given when it "does not create a substantial adverse effect on the amenities, use, safety and convenience of the adjoining property and adjacent area."

Infill teachable moment

Jino Distasio, the head of the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg, took one of his urban revitalization classes to view the property last week. 

The lesson for his students, Distasio says, was about poor communication from the city to residents about what was proposed, and a missed opportunity for city planners to broker some understanding between neighbours.

He, much like the residents near the construction project, didn't blame the developer.

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"I think if they all got around a table — maybe with the help of a community planner — they could have come up with a design that maximized the light in the back, that softened the sight and the height of the project," Distasio said.

The residents he spoke to in the neighbourhood said they didn't understand the variance system, or what was meant by the notice that was posted before the lot was split into two.

"There is no way that in each neighbourhood … a staked sign in a front yard is enough for every single community member — especially for those who aren't sure of what their rights are," Distasio said.

Size matters

As new homes pop up in older neighbourhoods, the concerns — and complaints — mount over infill housing.

The city councillor who chairs the city's property, planning and development committee acknowledges these kind of neighbourhood flash points are filling his inbox.

"We need some some guidelines. We need some standardization," said Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital).

"No one enjoys being up at midnight responding to people denouncing you … saying that you're corruptly in favour of one side or the other. But we do need to get a better process."

The city has launched a review of infill housing policies and Mayes says everything, including how high is too high, will be on the table.

"We do need to have a talk about height, about what sort of light coverage we want, and how to preserve trees, and just how to deal with some of the problems that arise with infill," Mayes said.

The city will hold open houses on changing its infill strategy starting Sept. 24.

Arnal says she and some of her neighbours will be at that meeting. 

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