WINNIPEG – Growth fees are a step closer to being a reality in Winnipeg, but ultimately this matter could end up being settled in a court room and not in the council chamber.
The contentious fees on new developments in the city cleared a major hurdle on Wednesday, passing a vote at a meeting of Mayor Brian Bowman’s Executive Policy Committee.
Four of the six councillors on the committee voted with Bowman to approve the plan while councillors Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg – St. Norbert) voted against the fees.
The matter will now go before city council next week and Browaty wants to be convinced to change his vote.
“Unless we see a significant change I’ll be voting against it at this point, but I think it’s a good improvement to see it come down to the $9,000 mark, I think it’s a good improvement to see it only going to new growth,” Browaty told reporters after the meeting.
Meanwhile, Janice Lukes has been less than impressed with the process that has played out so far, echoing the frustrations of many in the Winnipeg’s development community.
“I don’t feel all council members have been adequately brought up to speed and educated on this,” Lukes said.
Councillors Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and Scott Gillingham (St. James – Brooklands – Weston) also made it known during the meeting that they would be voting against the fees when council meets.
Once again, members of the development community filed into City Hall to vent their frustrations with the fees.
Eric Vogan, Qualico’s vice president of community development, told the committee that the fees “are a scheme based on a flimsy plan.”
Even if the fees are approved by council, the issue may not be rubber stamped as the development industry has made it clear they will launch a legal challenge.
“The proposed bylaw is illegal,” said Mike Moore of the Manitoba Homebuilders’ Association. “The approach is not like every other city and is not permitted under current legislation.”
Mayor Brian Bowman said the city has the legal authority to introduce the fees and said the threat of legal action is unfortunate.
“It’s obviously disappointing to see that in addition to the fact that right now we have all existing homeowners and residents paying for growth that anyone would want taxpayers to spend even more money on lawyers in lawsuits,” Bowman said.
Last week, new recommendations were announced that amended the original growth fee plan. It suggested phasing in the fees over three years and having the by-law come into effect on November 1, 2016.
However, the funds would not be collected until May and the fee would be cut in half for residential builds.
All other developments will be exempt for two years while residential infill in older neighbourhoods, including downtown won’t have to pay for three years.
The amendment also recommends establishing a committee of city councillors, administrators and developers to oversee the implementation of growth fees during the next few years.