Lack of public input, appeal among Bill 23 concerns cited in staff report

MINTO – The impact of the province’s new housing legislation on municipalities may not yet be entirely clear, but it will be significant, suggests a staff report presented to Minto town council on Jan. 31.

A lack of requirement for public consultation ahead of subdivision development is among the major concerns, Minto director of planning and development Terry Kuipers told council.

“I’m working with a developer in Palmerston who can comply with the current zoning,” he said.

“So the only process they would have to go through is the plan of subdivision, which means the neighbours that abut the property may not know (anything) is happening there until the bulldozer shows up one morning.”

Kuipers added, “We understand that that’s not what Minto’s goal is. There are no mandated public meetings (for plans of subdivision) but we can still hold public meetings.

“So, we’re still going to get their input, just so we … keep everyone happy, keep everyone informed.”

The report compiled by planning coordinator Ashley Sawyer notes recent changes to building regulations began last April, with the passage of Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act.

The act was introduced with the stated intent to crack down on speculators driving up the cost of housing, to protect homebuyers from predatory development practices, and to create more housing options for homeowners and renters by accelerating development timelines.

The act took approval of site plans out of council’s jurisdiction, requiring it be delegated to municipal staff.

The act also requires municipalities to refund fees for site plan control and zoning bylaw amendment applications if they are not approved, or a decision is not made, within newly-legislated timelines.

“The refund of fees does remain a source of concern with municipal staff as the legislation remains unclear,” said Sawyer, noting the fee changes took effect on Jan. 1.

“However, just before Christmas … we received a letter from the minister saying that he’s promising to bump this timeline to July 1 … as it stands right now, the legislation passed for Jan. 1 and we haven’t heard anything further from the province on if this date is getting pushed,” Sawyer explained.

Bill 23, the More Homes Build Faster Act, which received Royal Assent on Nov. 28, changes nine pieces of provincial legislation.

“Not all of these changes are going to impact the town, so I didn’t want to bore you with the City of Toronto Act and all of that,” she added.

Changes to the Conservation Authorities Act are among those that do affect local planning, said Sawyer.

“Conservation authorities can no longer appeal official plans, official plan amendments, zoning bylaws, minor variances, consents (severances), or draft plans of subdivisions, unless they are themselves the applicant in the case of a minor variance,” she explained.

“And they can also no longer make their own regulations per conservation authority, so they’re going to have one regulation apply to every single one of them.

“That being said, the provincial policy statement does remain clear that they can still comment on natural hazards, which is flooding,” said Sawyer, meaning regulations that prevent building in a floodplain are still intact.

Sawyer said numerous changes to regulations governing development charges are complicating the process.

“Many changes are proposed there, including the addition of exemptions for added units to rental apartments, affordable residential units, attainable housing options, inclusionary housing units and non-profits,” she stated.

“We’re still waiting on the province to define exactly what they’re saying affordable is, how agreements for these affordable units will work, including what it means for subsequent sales, and what the prescribed criteria for ‘attainable’ housing is.”

The act will require development charge increases to be phased in over five years, although Minto is among the municipalities that have not changed their bylaw covering the charges since Jan. 1, 2022 and, under the new legislation, can stick with the status quo until the current bylaw expires.

“They’re capping interest rates, we’re now required to spend or allocate at least 60 per cent of our DC reserves for water, wastewater, road services,” said Sawyer.

“Again, we’re not entirely sure what they’re defining ‘allocate’ as; so that’s to come.”

Sawyer also noted development charge bylaws will now expire every 10 years, rather than every five.

The Ontario Land Tribunal will become a stronger body under the new legislation, says Sawyer.

“They’re getting a lot more power and their decisions are made based on their opinion. You’ll see the word opinion comes up a lot now,” she said.

“They also do have enhanced ability to award costs for frivolous and vexatious complaints and they can prioritize certain hearings.”

Residential developments of 10 units or less are exempt from site plan control under Bill 23.

“We used to require it for four units or more on matters related to exterior design. So the character, the scale, the appearance, can no longer be reviewed or commented on at the municipal level,” Sawyer explained.

For minor variance and consent for severance applications, members of the public, including neighbouring landowners, can no longer appeal decisions under a section of Bill 23, effective immediately.

Sawyer said Minto was proactive in the area of additional residential units and has already put in place requirements in Bill 23 that up to three units be allowed “by right”on every urban residential lot.

“So if you have a zoning, bylaw or official plan that prohibits that, it’s null and void … municipalities can no longer do that,” she stated.

Municipalities can also no longer specify the size of additional units and cannot require more than one parking space per unit.

“So with all these changes we’re seeing, we’ve been working with the county, as well as our neighbours in Mapleton and Wellington North, and we will continue working with them,” said Sawyer.

“But we’ll be probably looking at another zoning bylaw amendment to get everything up to speed with the new legislation.”

Despite the sweeping changes, Sawyer said Bill 23 isn’t, on its own, a solution to housing issues in the province.

“It’s a piece of legislation that does have some pretty intense goals,” she said.

“Do we think it’s going to solve the affordable housing crisis? No. There’s a lot of other facets that play into that. But when you look at it on the surface level, it’s a start.”

“So we’re going to lose money out of this,” said councillor Ron Elliott.

“Have you any estimate what kind of percentage we’ll lose out of out of developmental charges?”

“It’s really hard to put a handle on because as you know our development has been really up in the last bit,” said treasurer Gordon Duff.

“It’s hard to really quantify. But it’s definitely not an increase, it’s a decrease.”

“What are your largest concerns in regards to all this other than the development charge thing?” asked deputy mayor Jean Anderson.

Kuipers said one challenge will be “to develop processes to replace the processes that were removed from us.”

“The processes that we lost – to replace those – slows things down and the builders and developers are saying exactly the same thing,” said Kuipers.

“The other thing that I have concerns about is lack of public process and public input.”

Kuipers noted the town heard earlier that evening from neighbours concerned about a minor variance proposal.

“They have no appeal rights to it. So yes, they speak their mind. The town, we can go tell them to pump salt and they can’t do anything about it, which I don’t think is what a public process is supposed to be,” he explained.

“That’s definitely not what staff or council’s opinion is. We’re still going to take it into consideration when making a decision. But again, I don’t like that.”

“This legislation seems set to make enemies or really hard feelings,” observed Anderson.

“People who live in a rural area presumably chose to live in that rural area, because they like having a larger yard and trees on their streets … they don’t want a six-storey high rise … beside them.

“It changes the whole context of the neighbourhood. And the parking? One parking space? Really? Where’s everybody going to go?”

“As you can tell from Ashley’s report and Terry’s comments, there’s nothing simpler here,” said Duff.

“There’s the unquantifiable costs of dumping a lot of work on the building and planning department, on the finance department, I think on the clerk’s department too,” added Duff, noting record keeping will become more complicated under the new agreements that will be required.

“We used to have it pretty simple. You came in, got your building permit and you paid your development charges – we’re done,” he pointed out.

Now, said Duff, “there’s certain anniversary dates, like when an application is deemed complete and then that freezes it for two years, but if you wait for three, then it’s off … the tracking is going to be incredible.”

“It’s quite mind boggling .. how it got Royal Assent?” wondered Anderson.

“The commenting period was over after it got read, or got Royal Assent. So it’s like, ‘Yeah, we want your comments, but too bad,’” noted Kuipers.

Council received the staff report for information.