Growth-fee lawsuit keeping Winnipeg, developers from further talks

The legal battle over growth fees has cast a new chill on the already frosty relationship between developers and the City of Winnipeg.

A working group that was supposed to determine where the fees would be applied in the future is on hold because of the legal challenge against the new city revenue-generating mechanism, council property chair John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said Tuesday.

City council approved a plan last year for growth fees to be applied in stages, beginning with new residential areas in selected neighbourhoods at the fringes of the city this May.

The plan called for a working group involving city officials and developers to figure out where the fees would be applied next year and in 2019, both in terms of the types of development — for example, on industrial and commercial lands — as well as the specific areas of the city, including downtown.

Orlikow said the city was about to send out invitations when the city's legal staff put the brakes on the working group, whose creation was part of the plan approved by council last October.

​"The legal department is not too sure if we should have a working group because of this idea of the legal challenge," said Orlikow, referring to the lawsuit commenced by developers in February.

"We had the invitations ready to go. We had the list ready to go. Then all of a sudden we were told by legal we had to take a pause here and re-evaluate the idea of organizing it. My intent is to still have the working group going."

Developers are challenging the city's legal authority to levy growth fees.

Orlikow said he still intends to meet with them and will speak to city lawyers next week to hear their rationale for placing the working group on hiatus or getting rid of it altogether.

That group is supposed to have 10 people, but Orlikow said he sent out a total of 50 invitations to developers. His plan was to involve industrial developers first, and then infill developers.

The councillor said the elimination of the working group is "a roadblock" that may impact the city's timeline for imposing growth fees on other areas and in turn, affect the city's ability to generate revenue from the new charges.

Mike Moore of the Manitoba Home Builders Association said he knew there must have been some problem because the working group was supposed to be created last fall.

"I imagine there are people in industrial, commercial and infill [development] that are fairly nervous now that they're getting no feedback on where potential fees are going," Moore said in a telephone interview from Ottawa.

"I'm still hoping the working group gets formed because I don't see any way in the world that council and the planning, property and development department can create unilaterally the policy and the decisions toward implementation.

You have to involve the people in the industry in order to move forward."