Erin expresses Bill 23 concerns in letters to province

ERIN – Big changes are coming for municipalities scrambling to comprehend the Progressive Conservatives’ Bill 23, known as the More Homes Built Faster Act.

The legislation was passed on Nov. 28, about a week before the commenting period ended on Dec. 4.

Erin council endorsed comments and briefly discussed some of the bill’s effects on the town at its Dec. 8 meeting, prompted by a report and letters from planning and development director Jack Krubnik and staff.

Along with the other 443 municipalities in the province, the town was never consulted on any of the changes imposed by the bill.

Krubnik and town staff have been busy trying to interpret the bill’s influences on nine pieces of provincial legislation and submit feedback to the province.

On Nov. 22 the town submitted four letters to the province, including the heritage branch of the Ministry and Citizenship and Multiculturalism; the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry; and two letters to municipal affairs and housing minister Steve Clark.

Heritage designations

The town has requested an extension from half a year to a full year to produce an up-to-date online listing of Erin’s Municipal Heritage Register, including all properties which aren’t designated heritage sites, but have been added to the list by council, believing the sites are of heritage value.

Regardless of when a non-designated property was added to the list, under Bill 23, property owners will have the ability to object to their inclusion on the list.

And non-designated properties on the list would be automatically removed within two years – the town has objected to this change.

That means if the town wants to designate a property on the list, a Heritage Impact Assessment will be required.

The town doesn’t object to owner-initiated removal, but is asking the province to put the onus of an assessment onto the property owner.

“The town does not have the resources, either financial or staffing,” Krubnik wrote in a letter to Paula Kulpa, a senior policy advisor with the province.

Each impact assessment would require a consultant, Krubik added, writing “the town has been unsuccessful in finding heritage consultants who are able to complete [an assessment] within the current 60-day review period.”

Conservation authorities

Under Bill 23, the Grand River and Credit Valley conservation authorities would no longer review and provide comments on planning applications for the town.

Krubnik wrote in his report to council the legislation “will create serious risks to the environment and human health at a time when the impacts of climate change are evident and urgent.”

The director wrote to the province that “by furthering restricting conservation authority powers, municipalities will need to rely on third part consultants, at the expense of developers.”

The province should support the efforts of conservation authorities to protect communities, Krubnik wrote, “instead of stripping away” their authority.

The town has requested the province remove clauses in amendments to the Conservation Authorities and Planning acts limiting the roles of conservation authorities for planning applications.

Parkland dedication

The province is changing how parkland is dedicated during development.

The province has implemented:

  • different rates for high-density developments;
  • a maximum for how much land can be dedicated;
  • freezing rates for two years once a site plan application is received;
  • allowing for encumbered and private land for dedication;
  • forced spending/allocation of parkland reserve dollars;
  • exemption for parkland requirements for affordable housing units, non-profit housing, and additional residential units.

“During the pandemic, municipalities realized that there is a deficiency in parkland for the current population,” Krubnik wrote.

“As we continue to grow, it is important to provide adequate parkland for all residents.”

The town doesn’t support proposed parkland dedication rates, and requests that Bill 23 changes not apply to developments that have already received draft plan approval.

The town is also concerned with the province’s proposal to permit encumbered land and privately-owned spaces for parkland dedication.

That could result in land unsuitable for park purposes being provided, Krubnik wrote, and land may not meet parkland standards.

Encumbered parkland could lead to insurance issues and other risks for municipalities, he added.

A requirement to spend or allocate at least 60 per cent of parkland reserves each year would “severely hamper efforts to execute park plans,” Krubnik wrote.

He added reserve dollars need to be banked considering the “significant capital costs” of developing and acquiring parkland.

The town is also concerned with the province’s desire to exempt certain housing projects from parkland dedication requirements.

Krubnik wrote the move “would result in a deficiency of parkland surrounding affordable housing.”

Development charges

For municipalities that passed a new development charges bylaw after Jan. 1, 2022, increases must be gradually phased in over five years.

Erin’s existing bylaw doesn’t expire until 2024, when it will have to be updated, according to Krubnik.

The town takes the position that phasing in increases will result in a reduction of fees, in particular by 20 per cent in the first year of the process.

The province also proposes to force municipalities to spend or allocate 60% of development charge reserves each year.

Krubnik states the change “will significantly impact” the town’s ability to “keep up with the required infrastructure improvements” and cause the town to raise tax rates to compensate.

Forced spending and allocation would also threaten multi-year capital plans the town relies on to save enough money.

Finally, the province wants to exempt gentle density growth — presumed to be the province’s new three residential units per lot as a right — from development charges.

Krubnik states adding more units to lots will put more demand on water and wastewater infrastructure without a way to pay for it.

“There are scenarios where the existing services will not be sufficient,” he wrote.

Additional units of the kind were also not considered in the town’s growth projections when calculating capacity for a new wastewater treatment plant.

The town has requested the province only permit the three units where capacity allows.

Comments to Steve Clark

The town submitted two letters of comments on various effects of Bill 23, from how many units are permitted as a right on properties to the forced spending of reserves.

Namely, the province wants to eliminate currently required public meetings for draft subdivision plans, but Krubnik wrote the change “will have a negative impact on the development industry and the planning process.”

He noted public meetings and appeals are “fundamental” to the planning process.

“Public input is often key to enriching and improving development proposals. Furthermore, resident input is a key component to understanding local conditions and impacts,” he added.

At the Dec. 8 meeting, councillor John Brennan specifically brought up the public meetings, asking Krubnik if the town could take its own initiative.

“There may be a way of us doing a consultation with the public that may not be officially a public meeting per se,” Krubnik suggested.

Brennan and councillor Bridget Ryan asked technical questions about the allocation of reserve dollars, purpose-built rentals, and the proposed Greenbelt expansion’s effect on farmers, severances, and how the province’s decisions align with federal climate change initiatives,

The answers to those questions are uncertain or unknown until the province releases more detail.

“There’s a number of items that still need to be resolved,” Krubnik told the Advertiser by phone.

Until then, Krubnik said staff will be working on bringing local bylaws into conformity with the province’s legislation where direction is clear.