Guelph-Eramosa council questions province”™s revisions to planning act

Guelph-Eramosa council sees Planning Act changes proposed by the provincial government as “black and white,” and more of a hindrance than an aid.

At the April 7 Guelph-Eramosa meeting, council heard from planning associate Kelsey Lang about Bill 73, the Smart Growth for Our Communities Charges Act, 1997 and the Planning Act.

The bill was presented for its first reading in the Ontario Legislative Assembly on March 5 and there is a public commenting period until June 3.

It was the proposed changes to the Planning Act that Lang focused on during the meeting.  She said there were four areas of the proposed amendments township staff saw as a cause for major concern.

First, one of the proposed changes would restrict zoning bylaw amendments.

“During the two years after a global repeal and replacement of all (of a) municipality’s zoning bylaws … no applications for zoning bylaw amendments would be permitted,” she said.

Presently the township is undergoing a comprehensive review of its current zoning bylaws, and Lang was unsure if this change would be applicable to the new process.

“If they’ll interpret our comprehensive review under this amendment then we may want to re-frame how we’re doing it,” she said.

Mayor Chris White clarified the amendment means that if the zoning bylaw is completely redone, no amendments to the bylaw will be possible for two years after it is put in place.

“What they’re trying to do is to allow these documents to be fully implemented because in larger places they’re being appealed before they’re even having a chance to be implemented,” Lang said.

“So they’re trying to reduce the number of appeals and allow the planning to happen without going to the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) for five years after your zoning bylaw (is) in place.”

Lang said this is of large concern for the town because it could impact economic development.

“Almost half of the site plan applications we received in the last two years went through zoning bylaw amendments at some time or the other,” she said.

In addition Lang said the town would like to consider zoning bylaw amendments on a case-by-case basis. After the review is done and the amendments are made to the current zoning bylaws, Lang said town staff would like to be able to make changes to the new system if it is identified that something isn’t working.

The second area of concern Lang identified is a section, “saying no official planning amendments (are permitted) for two years after an official plan is implemented.”

This provision would also include township-initiated changes to the Wellington County official plan.

In addition, any changes to the official plan that are made to implement a provincial plan, such as the Green Belt, cannot be appealed, she explained.

“This is a concern to us because it may impact the township and we’d like to be able to comment and question components that impact us,” she said.

The last amendment Lang highlighted at the meeting is a provision ensuring the impact public comments have on council’s decision regarding a zoning bylaw amendment and minor variance application is documented.

“It will be interesting if this passes and we’re basically frozen for two years,” councillor Corey Woods said. “So if anybody wants to take the holding off a subdivision or do a farm severance we’re locked out for two years.”

Lang said that to get around the two-year moratorium after a global repeal or replacement, the township would make several amendments rather than one larger job.

White said he understands the limitations that appeals create when implementing a new official plan.

“If you pass an official plan and people appeal it … I mean you can’t function,” he said.

However, he also said public input is of the utmost importance.

“So the implication that somehow we’re still doing stuff in our Planning Act … with little public input is nonsense,” he said.

Councillor Mark Bouwmeester said he wouldn’t support any changes that would make the process more restrictive or prescribed than it already is.

Councillor David Wolk questioned whether there were a lot of complaints from the public about not having their opinions heard regarding zoning bylaw amendments and whether this was the Ontario government’s way of addressing those concerns.

As a result of the province’s amendments, Lang said she anticipates municipalities will no longer do comprehensive reviews of zoning bylaws or official plans.     

“People will do amendments, sort of on an as-needed basis or split a review up to do amendments,” she said.

White then clarified that this was a first draft of the amendment to the Planning Act and that he hopes the province will make the necessary changes.

“When you get down to our level, looking at some of this stuff, the unintended consequences of this, if it’s fully implemented and interpreted could be very damaging economically across the province,” White said.

“It shouldn’t make things worse, it should make things better.”

Council supported the township drafting a letter to the province outlining concerns surrounding the amendments. Staff will bring the letter back to council for consideration before sending it.