City, developers pay price for expanded Municipal Board: Rollins
‘Unexpected consequences’ of land-use appeals concern councillor
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The Manitoba government is giving its municipal development tribunal more power to overturn land-use decisions made by Winnipeg city councillors.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, who chairs Winnipeg’s property and development committee, said parts of a new law will have a significant effect on city operations, add red tape and drive up costs for both the city and developers.
The City of Winnipeg Charter Amendment and Planning Amendment Act (Bill 34) was passed by provincial lawmakers on June 1; a recent order by Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke proclaimed Dec. 31 as the date for some clauses of the bill to come into force.
The legislation will give the Municipal Board new authority to consider appeals for development permits that have been refused by city officials for failing to conform to a development plan bylaw, secondary plan bylaw, or zoning bylaw.
It will also allow the Municipal Board to hear appeals for refused development permits owing to non-compliance with the regional planning bylaw of the capital planning region.
“It’s just not doing the streamlining and reduction of red tape,” said Rollins, noting department staff are being pulled away from their day-to-day work to respond to appeals. “We’re already really concerned that in some cases it’s almost undefinable costs because of the relative length of the Municipal Board and how much longer that’s taking.
“Those are all things that we’re rushing to account for at the City of Winnipeg, even within this budget.”
Rollins estimated potential expenses to be in the millions of dollars. She said the first few appeals have cost the city in staff time and delayed investments.
The provincially appointed quasi-judicial tribunal was given authority to hear appeals of city land-use decisions concerning zoning bylaws, secondary plans, development agreements and approval conditions in Bill 37, which became law last year.
Bill 34 builds on that authority by adding development permits to the list of decisions that can be challenged.
In September, the Municipal Board informed the City of Winnipeg it should reject a proposal to build a 199-unit, 55-plus apartment building at 4025 Roblin Blvd. City council had approved the development last February, but the decision was appealed to the board.
Rollins said she is concerned about the “unexpected consequences” of appeals for property developers and home builders faced with inflationary pressures, supply-chain issues and labour shortages. Investors are looking for certainty and transparency and the first experience of the new legislation has been unpleasant, Rollins said.
“We have this board where provincial legislation gives them power to absolutely do over and overturn decisions of council,” she said. “I can’t think of a more chilly climate than that.”
Manitoba Home Builders’ Association president Lanny McInnes said his organization has provided recommendations for improvement to the province as the scope of the Municipal Board expands.
“Now that the process is in place, and we’ve now had a go-through, from a process perspective, we’ve provided feedback to the minister and the department,” McInnes said.
Clarke did not provide comment in response to concerns but a spokesperson for her office offered a statement defending the legislation.
“The previous City of Winnipeg council requested a change to legislation and specifically asked that the province ‘provide local residents impacted by a decision, in addition to property owners, with the right of appeal to the Municipal Board on municipal land use decisions,’” the statement said.
Another piece of legislation, the Municipal Assessment Amendment and Municipal Board Amendment Act, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2023 will improve the process to address concerns of residents and developers, the spokesperson said.
The legislation was passed on June 1 and gives the Municipal Board authority to mediate planning appeals with agreement from all parties instead of holding a hearing.
Meanwhile, nominations for a board of directors to oversee the preparation of a development plan for the Winnipeg capital region open in January.
The province said it will work with the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region to establish a regional planning framework to be set in legislation.
The board will have at least one director from the 18 municipalities in the capital region and up to four additional board members appointed by the province. Legislation establishing the Capital Planning Region comes into force Jan. 1, 2023.
The regional planning board must prepare and adopt the plan within two years.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.