24.7 C
Niagara Falls
Saturday, July 13, 2024
Arch-i-text: What Ontario’s new planning statement means for development
Doug Ford’s legislation for building homes will allow developers to steamroll municipalities and takes away rights of towns like NOTL, says Brian Marshall. (FILE/EVAN SAUNDERS)

Despite widespread voter opposition, last fall Premier Doug Ford and his government rammed through the More Homes Built Faster Act, also known as Bill 23, a piece of legislation which blatantly pandered to large developers at the expense of the provincial greenbelt, the environment, heritage, local governments and so on.

The ramifications of this legislation were the topic of several articles in this column and widely covered by many other newspaper and media outlets, none of which were complimentary at any level.

Hot on the heels of the Bill’s passage (perhaps even before), work began on the Provincial Planning Statement that would put more tracks under this runaway train.

So, just what is a Provincial Planning Statement?

The Ontario government’s Environmental Registry website defines the new statement as a replacement for the 2020 version and for 2019’s A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, which, taken together, “both provide comprehensive, integrated, whole-of-government policy direction on land use planning matters.”

In short, this statement will provide the “marching orders,” direction and authority to the provincial bureaucracy responsible for enforcing the Planning Act and all associated legislation (like Bill 23).

On the same Environmental Registry website the government identifies five “pillars” within the proposed policy: Generate an appropriate housing supply; make land available for development; provide infrastructure to support development; balance housing with resources; and implementation. Detailed under these pillars are a total of 28 bullet points of which 17 begin with or include the words “require municipalities”.

Incidentally, many of these “requirements” will involve downloading functional responsibilities from the province to said municipalities while the authority is retained at the provincial level.

Of course, this is a planning statement, so there is no suggestion relative to where the money is going to come from to pay for the expanded bureaucracy to perform these duties at the municipality, a level of government whose coffers have been recently slashed by Ford’s elimination of their development charges income.

In a province that holds the unenviable title of the most indebted sub-sovereign government in the world (was before COVID-19 and is worse today), I doubt money or the ability to raise money will accompany the downloading.

Further, I suspect even doubling the property tax revenues – that would be you and I once again paying for a government debacle – would cover the increased costs at the local level.

Unless, perhaps, the associated planning functions were skeletonized?

Now, that would allow the developers, and many other industries, to operate with virtually no oversight with the inevitable negative and lasting impacts to the greenbelt, environment and so on, but it would be consistent with the Ford government’s actual track record.

While it is impossible to fully explore the proposed policies within this statement in this column’s space, we can cite a few examples.

Under the housing portfolio, past governments have generally defined “affordable” as a function of income for ownership and rental housing. This definition has been removed from the proposed Provincial Planning Statement for 2023.

This approach is consistent with the Ford government’s position on changes to the inclusionary zoning regulation (O. Reg. 232/18), which prescribes the lowest price or rent that can be required for inclusionary zoning units to 80 per cent of the average resale purchase price or average market rent, as opposed to relying on an income-based approach.

So, if the average resale price in a given municipality happens to be $900,000, “affordable” is defined as $720,000. Similarly, if the average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the municipality is $2,200 per month, then “affordable” rent is $1,760 per month. 

Under settlement area expansion, in an effort to curb urban sprawl past governments have required municipalities to complete a comprehensive review to demonstrate there were insufficient opportunities to accommodate the forecasted growth through intensification or on designated urban lands, before expanding its settlement area boundaries or identifying new settlement areas.

This “needs test” has been removed from the proposed provincial plan. The statement also reduces the criteria that a municipality must consider before identifying a new settlement area or allowing a boundary expansion of an existing settlement, leaving only the proviso that there is sufficient capacity in infrastructure and public service facilities to support the expansion or new settlement area, and avoiding or minimizing impacts on agricultural land and operations.

While the statement does include some protection of prime agricultural lands, it simultaneously devolves the designation of those lands (including specialty crops) onto the municipality – an organ of the province subject to ministerial dictates including the direction to expand settlement areas.

The proposed planning statement also resurrects development in and on prime agricultural lands by allowing a property owner to construct two additional residences on farmland and also permits the severance of up to three residential lots from any given agricultural property (a practice that was eliminated over 20 years ago to halt the gradual loss of prime farmland).

Reflective of the Ford government’s stance on the environment, the proposed statement shifts the focus from conserving biodiversity and protecting essential ecological processes to one that balances the use and management of natural resources with attention to appropriate housing supply.

It eliminates the standing direction to maximize vegetation in settlement areas, where feasible, to merely consider the mitigating effects of vegetation and green infrastructure.   

And management plans to conserve and protect any manner of cultural heritage (including that of Indigenous communities) have been completely eliminated in the proposed planning statement.

All this, combined with Bill 97 – which gives new and almost dictatorial powers to the provincial minister – foreshadows a very scary future for this province.

The proposed Provincial Planning Statement is open for public input at https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-6813 … Please read it, and Bill 97, then get involved and make your opinion known on the future of Ontario.      

Brian Marshall is a NOTL realtor, author and expert consultant on architectural design, restoration and heritage.

Subscribe to our mailing list