Regina city council has unanimously passed a series of development-related bylaws to help clear the way for $36.2 million from the federal government's housing accelerator grant program.
The program would allow builders to make new residential buildings more dense and add more units to existing buildings, while the millions in funding would be used to drive 1,100 permit approvals for housing units in Regina by 2026.
The 1,100 permits would be on top of the expected number of housing units.
Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens emphasized that this is the first in a series of sequenced bylaw amendments that will make it easier for housing development in Regina.
Changes passed on Wednesday include allowing the construction of more units in any lot in the city, extending height limits on zones where multi-unit buildings are allowed and the removal of required parking minimums.
Future changes include development rules around transit routes, as well as enhanced standards around official community and neighbourhood plans.
The entire slate of changes should come back to council by June.
Tweaks around Provincial Capital Commission
There was a small tweak to the proposed changes after Jenna Schroeder, executive director of the Provincial Capital Commission, asked the city to exempt the Wascana Centre —the area around Wascana Lake — from the bylaw changes.
Jenna Schroeder is the executive director of the Provincial Capital Commission. (Clara Fortin/CBC)
The request for an exemption comes as the commission, a partnership between the provincial government, City of Regina and the University of Regina, is reviewing the Wascana Centre Master Plan.
That plan is meant to guide development around Wascana Lake and features restrictions on height limits in order to "maintain a skyline dominated by trees from viewpoints within and outside Wascana Centre and to preserve views of significant existing buildings, particularly the Legislative Building."
Schroeder stressed that the commission doesn't want the city to lose out on the Housing Accelerator Fund and that the proposed bylaw changes could still be implemented in the Wascana Centre Master Plan upon its review.
Ward 2 Coun. Bob Hawkins moved an amendment that would have city administration work with the commission to develop height standards relevant to the Wascana Centre area.
If an agreement is reached on height standards, it would still have to come back to city council for approval.
The amendment was passed nearly unanimously, with Stevens the only one opposed to the change. Coun. Nelson was absent from Wednesday's meeting and only Ward 4 Coun. Lori Bresciani did not take part in the debate.
Bresciani recused herself because of her family's interests in the development industry.
Endorsed by experts, industry
The proposed amendments were roundly endorsed by experts including Vanessa Matthews, an associate professor in geography and environmental studies at the University of Regina.
"For those concerned with how the proposed amendments may threaten 'property values' or the 'character of a neighbourhood,' I would ask, 'what and who exactly is the property and neighbourhood being protected for and from?'" Matthews said.
She explained that neighbourhoods continually change and that urban sprawl provokes higher costs through road connection and maintenance compared to more compact neighbourhoods.
Stu Niebergall, president of the Regina and Region Home Builders' Association, says the home accelerator fund is something his association has lobbied for. (Radio-Canada)
Matthews wasn't alone in voicing her support for the changes. Stu Niebergall, president of the Regina & Region Home Builders' Association, also spoke in favour of the proposed amendments.
"I'll start off by saying 'ditto' to what [Matthews] said," Niebergall said.
He said the housing accelerator fund is supported by his association and is something it has lobbied for.
The changes are necessary to get ahead of the housing supply curve, Niebergall said.
He believes Regina's market is still relatively soft and said there's still challenges around attracting investment for development.
"Lets take advantage of this once-in-a-generation fund," Niebergall said.