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Mayor ready to face potential legal battle over growth fees

Mike Moore of the Manitoba Home Builders’ Association said a court challenge could be launched if an impact fee by-law comes into effect Nov.1

The City of Winnipeg's Executive Policy Committee debates a proposed growth fees plan for the city on Wednesday, Oct.19, 2016.

Stephanie Taylor / Metro

The City of Winnipeg's Executive Policy Committee debates a proposed growth fees plan for the city on Wednesday, Oct.19, 2016.

Threats of legal action against the City of Winnipeg's growth fee plan won't hold back Mayor Brian Bowman.

Speaking to reporters after a three-hour meeting on Wednesday–where members of his inner circle voted 5-2 to introduce the fees—Bowman dismissed the assertion industry members would launch a court challenge over the plan.

“It’s obviously disappointing to see – 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,” he said.

“So that’s unfortunate.”

Mike Moore, president of the Manitoba Home Builder’s Association, was one of more than a dozens industry representatives who appeared before the committee, imploring councillors to abandon a plan they chided as “reckless and unacceptable.”

The revised plan is the product of Coun. John Orlikow’s extra consultation with concerned developers and councilors.

For changes, the city proposes to phase-in the fees over the next three years, beginning first with levying reduced charges—$9,159 down from $18,300 on an 1,800-square-foot home–on new residences built on the outskirts of the city.  

Moore called the proposed bylaw illegal, and said it’s not permitted under provincial legislation, in spite of what the city’s legal services department has advised.

“Imposing a fee as currently put forward leaves the industry with no choice, but to put forward a legal challenge,” Moore said, adding action would be initiated once a bylaw comes into effect Nov. 1.

“From the way you guys are driving down this broken set of rails, this is heading to court,” added Justin Swandel, former city councillor who now works for development firm Terracon.

Alan Borger, president of Ladco, also called the city’s legal position “murky.”

Bowman repeated to reporters on Wednesday that the city is acting within its powers under the City of Winnipeg Charter to introduce new fees.

He expressed no regrets as to how the consultation or planning process unfolded – even under threat of a lawsuit and admonishment from the city's development community, as well as division from within his own committee.  

"Like I’ve said from the beginning, there are going to be very different views on this. Certainly we’re hearing from some special interest groups that they don’t like it, and that’s not unexpected.”

Council will now hear the growth fees plan next week.

“It’s not over yet:” Lukes

Coun. Janice Lukes, one of two members of Bowman’s inner circle who voted down the plan on Wednesday, still believes there’s time for some last minute changes before the proposal is inked into law.

“It’s not over yet,” she told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting.

“I’m not against growth fees, but I think this process is going to cost us in the long run.”

Whatever those changes may be, they might not have council's support.

A strong majority of councillors plan to vote in favour of the fees, with only Lukes and fellow executive policy committee member Coun. Jeff Browaty, as well as councillors Scott Gillingham and Russ Wyatt against the plan.

Browaty told Wednesday’s committee he finds the calculations of growth-related infrastructure outlined in a report by the consulting firm Hemson,“fatally flawed.”

He expressed an openness to changing his vote by next Wednesday’s council meeting if some changes were made as to where future revenue from the fees would be spent.

“The benefit should also be going to those new communities that have some services that they’re looking for," said Browaty.

Next week, Coun. Russ Wyatt plans to table two amendments that would see five community capital improvement reserves set up to avoid placing growth fee revenue into one centralized fund.

Revenue from the new fees–which he wants called a 'community capital improvement fee'–would be placed into these funds, which would be controlled by the city’s five community committees and spent on area-specific projects.

“The essence of good public policy development is the open debate of ideas, and hopefully ideas that are good and are recognized are good and reasonable,” explained Wyatt.

‘I think this is a very reasonable amendment.”

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