Original Published on Nov 16, 2022 at 09:12
Here’s what the province’s new development bill might mean for Niagara’s municipalities
By Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As Bill 23 moves rapidly toward adoption, municipalities are racing to understand what the legislation will mean for planning, heritage and taxes.
On Oct. 25, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government introduced Bill 23 to the provincial parliament. Known as the Better Homes Built Faster Act, it’s designed to help Ford meet his target of building more houses across the province.
One of the largest implications, according to Mike Kirkopoulos, chief administrative officer of Lincoln, is that local area municipalities will shoulder more of the burden when it comes to development. Processes that were previously carried out at the regional level will be downloaded.
According to Matt Bruder, director of planning and development at Lincoln, the bill talks about dissolving the region’s official plan, which would mean the local area municipalities would have to assimilate that into their own plans. The region also carries out processes like consulting with Indigenous partners.
Whilst it may streamline development, since there is one fewer governmental tier for developers to deal with, it could cause issues for the lower tiers.
For example, since municipalities don’t exist in a vacuum, that could potentially erode the joined-up approach to certain developments between neighbouring municipalities.
The downloading of responsibilities could potentially stretch the resources of the lower tiers.
“Resources are limited,” said Bruder. “The job market, especially for planners, is low.”
Another focus of the bill is on heritage. At present, there are two tiers of heritage protections: non-designated and designated.
Non-designated is for properties that may not deserve full protection, but generally have features that are noteworthy. If an application to demolish a property on that list is submitted, the municipality has 60 days to decide whether to protect the building from demolition.
“It buys us some time,” said Bruder.
Under the proposed rules, however, municipalities can’t keep properties on the lower tier of protection forever. It’s all or nothing.
“So, it’s basically: ‘All right, you think this property might have heritage value? You’ve got a year to either prove it or forget it.’ That’s it. There’s no just keeping it just in case,” explained Bruder.
The proposals also change the rules around appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), which hears petitions from developers and the public around contentious developments. The proposals will strip ordinary residents from filing appeals, meaning that only developers can submit appeals.
The proposals also mean that if a council turns down a development, and the developer wins the appeal, the OLT can levy the funds accrued during that appeal onto the municipalities.
This, Bruder says, could potentially increase costs faced by municipalities if unsuccessful at the OLT, meaning councils will have to be cognizant of that when deciding on developments.
Changes to the Development Charges Act will also reduce the amount that municipalities will be able to get from development charges. Proposals include scrapping the charges for affordable housing, non-profit housing and inclusionary zoning units. Development charges will also be lowered up to 25 per cent for family-sized rental units.
“Growth might not be able to pay for growth,” said Bruder.
This might also put the financial burden on taxpayers rather than developers, since the lack of income from development charges might have to be made up through funding from the provincial or federal governments.
In the end, said Bruder, bold action does need to be taken to tackle the housing shortage, and there could be some benefits from the bill in terms of streamlining processes for developers.
However, one of the main concerns is that the specifics of implementation have not been outlined in detail, so the municipalities are trying to think of all the possible implications of the bill, in time to provide comments in the next few weeks before the bill is finalized and passed.
“The devil will be in the details about how implementation is set out,” said Bruder.