Mayor Brian Bowman's inner circle approved Winnipeg growth fees against the vehement protests of developers who accused the mayor of rushing recklessly toward arbitrary charges that are bound to be challenged in court.

City council's executive policy committee voted Wednesday morning to phase in growth fees in Winnipeg over the next three years. 

Pending council approval on Oct. 26, development fees will be charged on residential projects in a handful of designated areas at the fringes of the city on May 1. After further study, fees will be applied to industrial, commercial, institutional and office developments in two years and then on residential infill developments in older and mature neighbourhoods, including downtown Winnipeg, in three years,

The new fees would, at first, be 50 per cent of an initial growth-fee plan proposed in September. This works out to roughly $500 for every 100 square feet of new residential space. 

Representatives from several of Winnipeg's largest developers called the charge reduction arbitrary and reiterated their vehement opposition to a what they described as a deeply flawed plan that's being forced upon them with no meaningful or genuine consultation.

Big names in Winnipeg's construction industry give Brian Bowman's inner circle an earful1:51

Ladco president Alan Borger, Qualico vice-president Eric Vogan and Terracon vice-president Michael Falk asked the city to take the time to work on a growth-fee plan that does a more rigorous job of identifying areas that should be subject to charges as well as the infrastructure that must be built to support them.

The current plan, they argued, makes some privately owned greenfields subject to new charges while other lands at the edge of the city, including a River Park South plot the city is developing as a joint venture, won't be subject to the fees at first.

'This is finance, not religion'

The developers also reiterated concerns the growth-fee plan was based on faulty data, assembled in a hurry and ultimately will drive development outside city limits, where the city can not benefit from any revenue.

Ladco's Borger said it wasn't good enough for councillors to reject the conclusions of three separate studies that determined Waverley West did in fact pay for itself.

"This is finance, not religion," he said.

They also expressed derision toward the notion the city came up with a compromise after EPC voted in September to hold off on approving an initial growth-fee plan assembled by the city's corporate finance department. 

After that meeting, Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) held three weeks of consultations. Mike Moore of the Manitoba Home Builders Association called them disingenuous.

"This new plan is no compromise. Compromise involves one side listening to the other," Moore said.

Former city councillor Justin Swandel, who now works for Terracon, asked whether anyone found it ironic a call to update Winnipeg's long-term planning blueprint is on the same agenda as the growth-fee plan.

"You have the best and the brightest in the industry here and you closed them down in 10 minutes and you don't even ask a question, That's stunning," added Garth Steek, another former councillor who went on to work for the development industry.

"What did we hear throughout the election? Openness, accountability and transparency. Give me a break. This thing is being rammed down our throats with no consultation."

Brian Bowman

Mayor Brian Bowman said he doesn't expect everyone to be in favour of growth fees. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

The arguments ultimately failed to sway EPC, which voted 5-2 in favour of the amended growth-fee plan. That plan was further amended Wednesday after the city changed the boundaries of the map governing areas where the fees will first be charged on May 1.

"Effecting positive change is never easy," said Mayor Brian Bowman. "Delay for delay's sake is not something I would favour."

Couns. Orlikow, Brian Mayes (St. Vital), Marty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo) and Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) also voted in favour.

"This is a cautious approach, this is a phased-in approach," Orlikow said. "This is a slow, steady approach that will allow the opportunity for people to have input."

'Fatally flawed' and 'reckless'

Couns. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) voted against the plan.

Browaty said it was based upon a "fatally flawed" growth-fee study by consulting firm Hemson. Lukes said she believes the growth-fee plan was assembled hastily and said a good policy could be created in eight months to a year.

"I don't feel this is the way we should be developing policy," she said. "I do feel this is reckless."

Several councillors who are not on EPC appeared before the committee to offer their opinions on growth fees.

Councillors Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) and Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) spoke in favour, stating Winnipeg has waited too long to recover the cost of new developments.

Couns. Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands) and Russ Wyatt (Transcona) spoke against the plan, with both arguing the process used to create it was flawed.