Ottawa

4 ways Ontario's omnibus housing bill affects Ottawa

Municipalities are poring over a wide-ranging Ontario government bill meant to speed up housing construction, trying to decipher what it will mean for them.

PC plan to cut costs, red tape for builders will have major impact on cities

The Ontario government's More Housing, More Choice plan is looking to cut red tape so builders can put up more homes, and different types of housing, faster. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Municipalities are poring over a wide-ranging Ontario government bill meant to speed up housing construction, trying to decipher what it will mean for them.

"Homes are too expensive to buy and to rent, and there aren't enough of them available to help people in need," said Municipalities and Housing Minister Steve Clark when he announced the bill on May 2.

But the Progressive Conservatives' omnibus bill covers more than where developers get to build, or the fees they pay — revenue municipalities rely on.

The More Homes, More Choice bill would also change how new schools are built, how species at risk are protected and even how law enforcement can crack down on illegal cannabis dispensaries.

The City of Ottawa has already weighed in, expressing its hope the legislation won't just cater to the Greater Toronto Area's real estate problems.

Here are just four of the many changes proposed in this omnibus bill.

Development fees

Developers pay the City of Ottawa fees for new construction — $35,000 for a single detached house outside the Greenbelt, for example. The city counts on those tens of millions of dollars to build new roads, transit and other infrastructure so that growth pays for growth.

The new bill means Ottawa will no longer be able to collect development charges for such "soft services" as libraries and recreation facilities, according to Steve Willis, the general manager in charge of planning and infrastructure.

This new bill also replaces Section 37 of the Planning Act — a key tool that Ottawa and other cities use to collect money for such things as community gardens, daycare spaces and affordable housing in exchange for granting developers extra height on their towers. 

Instead, Willis said the city will need to come up with an entirely new "community benefits" bylaw to raise money for those features, but it will face a cap on how much it can collect from a developer based on land value.

The old Trailhead store on Scott Street was torn down to be replaced with a 22-storey condo development. The Section 37 funds collected from the extra height paid for a nearby park to get a water hookup to flood skating rinks. (Google Streetview)

Coun. Jeff Leiper said that Section 37 revenue has provided an efficient way for communities to get the little things they need in built-up areas like his Kitchissippi ward — a water hookup in a park to flood a rink, for instance.

"I'm very concerned we're going to lose it," he said.

Affordable housing

The former Liberal government gave cities the power to force developers to include affordable housing units, something called inclusionary zoning.

The City of Ottawa has yet to develop its own bylaw to do that, and would likely have focused on pushing for the cheaper units around new light rail stations anyway.

In fact, this new bill limits inclusionary zoning to areas around major transit stations, or to areas where the Minister might even step in and impose what's called a "community planning permit" — a streamlined approval for a specific area.

Approvals and appeals

City staff will have to meet tighter timelines if this bill becomes law. For instance, zoning bylaw changes will need to be dealt with in 90 days instead of 150, and official plan decisions in 120 days, down from 210.

Once a planning decision is made, the ability to appeal a new development will go back to rules that look like those used by the old Ontario Municipal Board, which the Liberals replaced just a year ago with the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal.

Community groups welcomed the Liberals' overhaul, because it meant a developer could only challenge a city's decision if the city failed to follow official plans and policies.

But the PCs are repealing those updates, saying the tribunal needs the powers to make timely decisions.

Conservation authorities

Conservation authorities have just seen Ontario's small contribution to their budgets cut in half.

Now, the provinces want to give municipalities more say over how conservation authorities spend the levy they get from property tax bills, and make them more accountable.

The government says conservation authorities need to focus on their core mandates: dealing with flood risks, running their conservation lands, and protecting drinking water sources. Municipalities shouldn't pay for "frivolous additional expenses," the government says.

To speed up approvals for builders and reduce costs, the government also plans to exempt some "low-risk development" from requiring conservation authority permits, and reducing regulations on areas within 30 to 120 metres of wetlands.

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