WATERLOO — Waterloo council has unveiled new rules for using land, aiming to put more people into less space while reducing driving.
Proposed zoning rules are simpler and easier to understand than current rules, some of which date back to 1947, city hall says. Changes include tailored rules for transit stations, a heritage district, environmentally sensitive areas, flood plains and specialty zones.
“We’re cleaning up 50-plus years of zoning,” Mayor Dave Jaworsky said Monday.
The city intends to expand and update permitted land uses. The supply of parking is to be reduced, to promote transit and to ease climate change. People can operate more businesses inside their homes.
Council plans to limit building heights in certain areas. Proposed regulations around tall buildings are meant to reduce shadows, reinforce a human scale and “create an interesting skyline” in a city that’s growing up rather than out.
That’s after residents expressed concerns about “the potential impact of tall buildings on adjacent properties and neighbourhood character.”
Local developers said they like much of what they see but need more time to advocate for changes.
Proposed tower regulations are “too prescriptive” and amount to a wrong-headed one-size-fits-all approach, planning consultant Glenn Scheels told council.
“Cities aren’t really made that way,” he said, asking council to be more flexible and to use guidelines rather than regulations.
Planning consultant Carol Wiebe warned that Waterloo will fall short of the downtown intensification it seeks.
“We have concerns about the magnitude of the (tower) regulations,” she said, speaking for multiple landowners. “They’re very, very onerous and they will prevent development from occurring.”
“We do think we need more time,” development lawyer Steven O’Melia said. “This bylaw will change the skyline for decades to come.”
Coun. Mark Whaley told developers that council is aiming for balance. “What you’re telling us is you want bigger buildings,” he said. But the public has told council that it wants smaller buildings.
Council has delayed approving the new rules until Sept. 10, to allow for more consultation. “Everyone’s a little bit happy, and everyone’s a little bit unhappy,” Jaworsky said.
“I think it should be thought through,” heritage advocate Kae Elgie told council. She’s concerned that “a city of tall buildings needs to be carefully planned if we are to avoid becoming an uptown of wind tunnels which pedestrians shun.”
The city has written new rules to “foster a patio culture” at restaurants, cafés and bake shops. It has written new rules on parking for electric cars. It aims to expand bicycle parking.
The comprehensive zoning bylaw implements a city-wide official plan adopted in 2012. It took city hall six years and many public consultations to bring its rules on land use into conformity with the planning vision. The final draft was completed Aug. 1.
One new rule may soon have to be changed. New zoning prohibits cannabis sales across Waterloo except for provincial outlets in certain areas.
If the Ontario government allows private storefront sales, council will have to amend this rule and decide where to allow pot retailers, after considering public feedback and distances from schools and daycares.
Rules on land use must comply with provincial policies. Ontario directs cities to put most new housing in built-up areas within existing borders, and to enact rules that dissuade driving in favour of walking, cycling and transit.
As an example, under proposed rules downtown offices near Waterloo’s rail transit stations must only provide parking for 30 per cent of employees. Until now offices have provided parking for 85 per cent of employees.
The city has introduced definitions for activities such as makerspaces, microbreweries, payday loan stores, community gardens and advanced tech.