Amidst the Provincial election, there has been a lot of discussion around housing affordability. In fact, it is a primary discussion point at all three levels of Government these days. In recent months, the Province released potential solutions through 55 recommendations from their Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force. This was followed by Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act.
The goal from the Province is to achieve 1.5 million new homes over the next ten years. The intent of the 55 recommendations is to make more land available for construction; to improve the planning approvals process; reduce the costs to build, buy, and rent; and to incentivize greater densities. The City agrees with most of the recommendations as they are consistent with what we are already focused on and have included in our new Official Plan. There are also some areas of concern. The primary concern relates to reduced approvals timelines and a limit to public participation in the approvals process. This was, in my opinion, the most significant piece that was included in Bill 109.
In order to reduce timelines, Bill 109 seeks to make the timelines shorter and more rigid. To achieve increased rigidity, it imposes penalties in the form of refunds. This pertains to Site Plan applications. On average, site plan control applications take 196 days to approve. The reasons vary because each file is different and some are quite complex involving much back and forth with the applicant and, in some cases, the community. Under Bill 109, penalties will be imposed if the application is not approved within 60 days. Partial refunds are granted up to 120 days at which time, anything longer would result in a full refund. The files still need to be processed and our Planning Department works on cost recovery. If we start refunding application fees, the taxpayers will have to cover the costs. It is not always possible to process these applications that quickly. In order to avoid refunds, we could simply end up in the position of refusing applications. That will lead to appeals and will just clog the appeals process and take any and all decision-making authority out of the City’s hands. In other words, many of these applications will get approved without the people you elect having a proper role.
Another change to the Site Plan application process is that they will no longer be able to rise to Committee for a decision by elected officials. These approvals will be permanently made by staff. There will also no longer be any requirement for public meetings on any application. The aim of this is to shorten the process and allow development to occur more smoothly on properties that are already zoned appropriately. The negative impact is that residents lose some say on how these files proceed. I’ll provide an example through the lens of 1966 Roger Stevens Drive.
As many of you know, 1966 Roger Stevens Drive is the industrial/commercial property at the corner of Roger Stevens Drive and Highway 416. To say this file was contentious would be an understatement. City Council approved an application to amend the zoning with some changes that I brought forward to improve the situation on the property and for nearby residents. This was appealed by the community. Recently, the Ontario Land Tribunal rendered its decision on this file upholding Council’s decision. In its decision, the OLT confirmed that the new zoning for the site is an improvement on the existing zoning from the perspective of community impacts.
Through that original process, though, I commented that many of the concerns related to site plan. I committed to holding a public meeting on the site plan application, whenever it was submitted, and that I would request the application be voted on by the Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee. I made that commitment in 2019. Due to the appeals process, the applicant has yet to file a Site Plan application. With the changes in place from Bill 109, those commitments that I made are rendered impossible. Under no circumstance will a site plan application for 1966 Roger Stevens Drive rise to Committee for a vote by elected officials. While I respect that these decisions by Councillors to bring applications to the public and before committee can be sometimes be motivated by delay tactics, in many cases, it is done for the benefit of community. Bill 109 removes that benefit in the name of fast-tracking applications.
There is no doubt that development applications take time and that time is money but we need to find a balance between moving forward stalled applications and ensuring that the public has an opportunity to contribute. Not every single element of opposition is of the NIMBY kind. Some opposition is thoughtful and contributes to positive change. For example, many of the elements that the Ontario Land Tribunal saw as positive changes for 1966 Roger Stevens Drive were ideas brought forward through public consultation.
Not all policy changes in Bill 109 have negative impacts but it is important to recognize them when they exist. This is one example.
If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, please email me at Scott.Moffatt@ottawa.ca or contact me by phone at 613-580-2491. For information on Ward 21 issues, please visit TeamTwentyOne.ca.