In Winnipeg, “growth does not pay for growth.” This was the conclusion Hemson, a consulting firm hired by the City of Winnipeg to determine whether or not growth development fees would benefit the city, reached. In other words, they confirmed what Mayor Brian Bowman has said in city hall for several months: development fees are in fact beneficial and perhaps even necessary.
Growth development fees are fees charged to a developer when they apply to proceed with a new development. Their purpose is to ensure that current property owners are not paying for the new infrastructure that developments or renovations require.
Other Canadian cities implemented these funds to mitigate the cost of urban sprawl, and they’re used to fund public programming.
Winnipeg is currently sitting at an infrastructure deficit, which means the City does not have enough money to put towards infrastructure construction and repair. According to Hemson, development fees could help alleviate this deficit and provide funding for other areas.
Although legitimate concerns have been raised over the fact the current proposed amount ($96.66 per square metre for industrial developments) is the highest in the country, the fees have the potential to be used to benefit all of the city’s residents.
In Toronto and Ottawa, this extra funding is used not only to cover the costs of the necessary roads, waste management facilities and sewer lines required by development, but it also assists in paying for programs including subways, libraries, parks and recreation and childcare.
In order for Winnipeg to have the capacity to use the fees to fund public programming, they must be implemented in a way to ensure developments are being built responsibly. Bowman said that City staff must look into options where exemptions could be applied - notably developments downtown.
Lower fees or exemptions in downtown areas would not only increase the likelihood of a more dense downtown, but they would also reduce the amount of new infrastructure. Instead of building entirely new infrastructure, developments could be tied into existing water and sewer lines.
Taken a step further, exemptions could also be awarded for development in other existing areas of the city that would benefit from mixed-use properties and more dense residences.
The result would be the opportunity to service various areas of the City with infrastructure that would match the unique needs of those areas. This would also be an opportunity to look plainly at our urban strategies and alter those that limit responsible development.
If these fees, however, are used to create unhealthy infrastructure, such as more vehicular access to suburban areas, it would result in a less efficient city and a lost opportunity to lessen our infrastructure deficit. Although implementing these fees is one step in the right direction, improper use could take us two steps back into the sprawl.
Kyla Crawford is a graduate of the Environmental Design Program at the University of Manitoba and a self-proclaimed urban advocate.