Text of Nov. 23, 2022 submission from Niagara-on-the-Lake Chief Administrative Officer regarding Bill 23

The text reads:

November 23, 2022

Honourable Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
777 Bay Street, 17th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2J3

Dear Honourable Sir,

Re: Written Submission on Bill 23 – More Homes Built Faster Act. 2022 – ERO Posting 019-6162

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on changes proposed to the ten (10) Acts through Bill 23 – More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 (ERO Posting 019-6162).

The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake appreciates the Province’s commitment to providing more housing across Ontario and recognizes the need for more affordable and attainable housing for all. However, the Town is concerned that many of the changes proposed through Bill 23 will result in unintended consequences that will thwart the desired housing outcomes. The Town’s main concerns focus on the potential impacts to:

•Environmental protections
•Heritage conservation
•Allowing “as-of-right” addition of up to three residential units per lot in all existing residential areas on servicing and character
•Site Plan Control and direction for urban design
•Public participation and consultation
•Municipal finances and existing taxpayers
•Acquiring parkland

The Town’s comments will focus mainly on the amendments proposed to the Planning Act, the Ontario Heritage Act, Conservation Authorities Act, Ontario Land Tribunal Act,and Development Charges Act. It is these changes that will have the most impact to the Town.

Comments have been prepared based on the results of the second reading of Bill 23. It is recognized that changes are continuing to be made through the Standing Committee review process. It is also understood that associated Regulations will be prepared and released by the Province in support of the Bill. In the absence of these, the full impact to the municipality and timing of implementation are not yet known.

Environmental Impacts

Bill 23 proposes significant changes to the current protections and classifications for environmental features, allowing development within previously protected areas.

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) is critical to the protection of life and property from natural hazards and features within our community. The proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act would result in a decrease and removal of responsibilities to the role of the NPCA in reviewing Planning Act applications, issuing permits, and the scope of their regulations. Further, the NPCA will lose the ability to regulate effects on pollution or the conservation of land and will be limited to the control of flooding, erosion, and dynamic beaches.

The Bill also proposes removal of upper tier planning responsibilities. Niagara Region currently provides environmental planning review and support to the Town. T he Town does not have the expertise to perform this function in-house and relies on this expertise from both the NPCA and Region.

In February 2020, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake declared a climate emergency. The reduction of NPCA and Niagara Region involvement in reviewing development applications could be detrimental to the health and well-being of our community and efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Town recommends that consideration be given to comments and recommendations provided by the NPCA and Niagara Region.

Heritage Conservation

Bill 23 proposes changes to the Ontario Heritage Act that will be significant to the Town and make it challenging to conserve important heritage buildings.

The proposed changes impact how properties will be designated, changes to Heritage Conservation District requirements, changes to technical reviews, and, most critically for the Town, changes to how listed properties are addressed.

The Town has approximately 200 listed properties on the Municipal Heritage Register. Listed properties will no longer be seen as distinct from the process of designation. Should Bill 23 proceed, a property that is listed on a heritage register must be designated within two years or it will need to be removed from the Register for a period of five years (minimum). Further, the existing listed properties currently on the register must be designated within two years of Royal Assent or they will automatically be removed (again for a period of five years minimum). The outcome of this change could be detrimental to the Town’s efforts to preserve our heritage and could result in the loss of important cultural heritage resources.

The Town’s tourist economy relies on the attraction of Old Town, its historical character, and its heritage buildings. The Town does not support changes to the Ontario Heritage Act that puts a time limitation on designating properties that are listed on the Municipal Register. Being a small municipality, the staff capacity to designate all buildings on the register is not feasible within a two-year timeframe.

The Town recommends that properties listed on the Municipal Register prior to Bill 23 receiving Royal Assent not be subject to the two-year timeframe for designation and may remain on the Municipal Register.

Additional Residential Units

The Town’s Official Plan supports the development of a wide range of housing options to accommodate a range of incomes and household sizes. A full range and mix of housing, including affordable and attainable housing, is important in addressing and promoting gentle intensification (including duplexes, triplexes, accessory detached units and accessory apartments). However, allowing additional residential units “as-of-right” in existing residential areas without examining the specific municipal implications could have adverse impacts. The Town suggests that considerations such as servicing capacity and heritage character should be contemplated through a local review for additional residential units.

The Town also recognizes that the intent of these permissions is to create housing options that are more affordable for home buyers and renters. Being a tourist destination, the Town’s housing stock is often acquired for investment in short-term rental. Allowing additional residential units “as-of-right” in Niagara-on-the-Lake may not meet the Province’ s intent of providing more housing for new residents.

While the Town supports additional residential units, it is recommended that local context and considerations be permitted through a local municipal review. This allowance will ensure that these units are implemented appropriately to have the intended outcome of increasing housing availability.

Site Plan Control and Urban Design Direction

Bill 23 proposes amendments to Site Plan Control approvals, limiting comments to health and safety of the development. The municipality would no longer be able to comment on the exterior design of the building or landscaping elements of the property.

The Bill would also no longer require development of ten (10) or fewer residential units to receive Site Plan Approval. The Site Plan process ensures that a site is developed with suitable form, function, and appropriate servicing, as well as integration with surrounding lands and character.

Both limiting the ability to comment on design and the removal of site plan requirements for 10 residential units or less will have a considerable impact to the Town. The Town’s growth will be primarily accommodated in smaller infill developments. If the Town does not have the ability to comment or require sit e plan for these developments, it could create undesirable results and development that does not contribute to a vibrant, attractive neighbourhood.

The Town is supportive, in principle, of increasing the quantity of housing; however, part of creating a vibrant public realm and a complete community that benefits all residents and visitors is ensuring that quality of development is also considered through the review and approvals process.

Public Participation and Consultation

Public participation and consultation is important in the review of planning applications. Bill 23 proposes to remove the requirement for a public meeting for a plan of subdivision application. While a public meeting would be required for an associated application (such as a Zoning By-law Amendment), where there is no related planning application, the Town believes that a public meeting should be required. A public meeting to receive input on a plan of subdivision is valuable in the decision-making process for the approval authority.

The Bill also proposes to eliminate third-party appeals to the Ontario Lands Tribunal; however, it is understood that this may be changed as a result of review at the Standing Committee. The Town understands some appeals may be lodged without proper justification. This is not always the case. It is recommended that the Province reconsider the elimination of third-party appeal sand look at other options for streamlining the OLT process.

Financial Impacts

Bill 23 proposes a variety of development charge (DC) discounts and exemptions. I t also introduces changes to the types of eligible charges that could be used to calculate DC rates. For example, studies related to capital growth planning, such as the Development Charges Study and secondary plan studies, may no longer be eligible.

The exact financial implication to the Town is not yet know; however, based on preliminary assessments of financial impacts, the Town would forego $925,000 to $1.3 million in Development Charge revenues over a 5-year time frame. The funds would either need to be funded through the existing tax base or supplemented by the Province to make up the difference in funding.

The proposed changes to DCs in Bill 23 will also limit the Town’s ability to fund the capital costs of growth-related infrastructure.A longstanding principle in planning is that growth pays for growth. It is anticipated that the proposed changes will have financial implications for the Town, along with the current taxpayers. The changes proposed transfer the financial burden of growth to the taxpayers, with the potential of creating affordability issues for existing homeowners.

Acquiring Parkland

Changes proposed through the Bill will impact the municipality’s ability to acquire parkland through dedication, the valuation of parkland, and what is considered acceptable as parkland (i.e. encumbered lands).

Parkland is essential to a community; it provides space for recreation and social gathering. As we learned through the pandemic, access to greenspace was essential for physical and mental health and social well-being. Allowing landowners to identify land to be conveyed could potentially result in lands unsuitable in size, location or quality to develop or maintain as appropriate parkland or recreational facilities.

The Town does not support changes to parkland dedication that would limit the ability to acquire suitable parkland to provide this important community resource.

Support for the Region and NPCA

The Town supports letters already sbmitted by the Niagara Region and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. Both letters are attached for information.The Town is concerned with losing specific support, such as environmental planning expertise, with the reduction/elimination of responsibilities from both the Region and the NPCA. The Town would support the continuation of a Memorandum of Understanding forreview functions.

Concluding Remarks

While the Town recognizes there is a housing crisis and is supportive of the intent to provide more housing, many of the changes proposed through Bill 23 will have unintended and punitive impacts at the local level.

Local municipalities are working diligently with the development community to bring more housing online sooner with local considerations in mind. While providing more housing is important, it should be balanced with good planning principles and good design so that we are building a community that people will want to live in now and in the future.

The Town respectfully requests that the Province pause approval of Bill 23 and consult further on the changes proposed to understand the implications at the local level. This pause will also provide an opportunity for municipalities to implement changes related to Bill 109, complete local official plan and zoning by-law updates and focus on planning approvals.

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