On November 28, there will be a special Council meeting to decide several key items. One of them is that Cobourg strongly objects to many parts of the Ontario Government’s Bill 23. CAO Tracy Vaughan and Director of Planning and Development Anne Taylor Scott are asking Council to object to parts of Bill 23. There have been multiple demonstrations against the legislation (e.g. outside MPP Piccini’s Port Hope Office), particularly protesting changes to environmental protections, but Cobourg Staff are also concerned that the changes favour developers and will do little to help make housing more affordable while increasing the burden on the taxpayer. The report by Anne provides a detailed analysis of the problems (see Resources below) but I will try to provide a summary.
Ford no doubt wants everyone to believe he’s helping – Bill 23 is called the “More Homes built faster Act” but many people do not agree although there is agreement or indifference with some aspects (see Appendix A).
Staff comments – summary
The general sense and opinion among Planning professionals is that the changes are developer-centric and remove some of the perceived hurdles and/or delays that the development industry face.
The proposed changes appear to have the effect of:
- Alleviating the financial burden to the developer
- Removing layers of environmental review, environmental protection, and measures to require sustainable development
- Introducing a “use it or lose it” approach for heritage listings
- Reducing opportunities for public participation and eliminating opportunities for residents to appeal decisions
There are limited positive elements that can be gleaned from the changes:
- Standardizing definitions including “affordable housing”
- Incentivizing affordable housing
- Addressing frivolous appeals
- Ensuring transparency by requiring Municipalities to publish a copy of their Heritage register on their website (Cobourg already does this here)
Staff focused on seven priority areas.
1. Scaling back the role of Conservation Authorities across the Province
Bill 23 has the effect of removing the ability of GRCA to perform certain roles that they have been assisting the Town with for years. These include Stormwater Management, Natural Heritage, Hydrogeology. The Town does not have capacity to do these things – it’s not clear how they would now be handled.
Also the GRCA will have less of a role as it relates to conservation of land, protection of significant environmental features and matters of pollution. Development may be allowed in areas that would typically be protected. The role of the GRCA will be limited to hazard areas only being the control of flooding, erosion, and dynamic beaches.
The proposed changes open the door for development to sprawl into currently identified natural areas that serve functions for flood attenuation, biodiversity, water quality, and may have financial implications for liability, insurance, and long-term maintenance.
2. An overhaul of the Development Charge framework
Affordable housing would be exempt from Development charges (D.C.) so these would be paid by all taxpayers. “The Town will have to make the decision to adjust service levels or raise property taxes to fund growth related costs.”
It is questionable as to whether changes to D.C will achieve the stated goals of increasing housing supply as well as the provision of more “affordable housing (80% of market value)”.
3. A use it or lose it approach to Heritage Conservation
The proposed legislation requires all municipally listed (as distinct from designated) heritage properties to meet more stringent provincial standards of designation under the Ontario Heritage Act otherwise they must be removed from the list within two (2) years.
The resources required to designate each property individually would be immense (may need a consultant) and is likely to result in the loss of heritage protection for properties.
Cobourg has four Heritage Conservation Districts, 50 individually designated buildings and 216 properties listed on the heritage registry.
4. Third unit as-of-right on residential properties
Municipalities must allow a third dwelling unit as-of-right on residential properties that permit single detached, semi-detached, and townhouse units. The legislation also limits the amount of parking that can be required to one space per dwelling unit.
The current Zoning requires two parking spaces for a single-detached dwelling and one additional space for an accessory dwelling unit. Based on Bill 23 changes, the parking requirements will be reduced, and this is likely to have a significant impact to on-street parking demands, complaints, and enforcement.
Also, the third unit as-of-right may impact the ability to provide adequate water and sanitary sewer services, including impacts to other hard and soft services.
5. Stripping the items to be reviewed as part of Site Plan Approval
Bill 23 proposes to remove Staff’s ability to comment on matters such as: urban design and architectural elements; landscaping; and the implementation sustainable and green development standards such as described in the Town’s Urban and Landscape Design Guidelines (see resources) and the ICSP currently being developed (see item 7 below).
6. Changes to planning, acquiring, and providing for Parkland
Bill 23 makes several revisions that have the effect of reducing the amount of parkland that could be acquired and exempt affordable, attainable, non-profit, and additional residential dwelling units.
7. The ability to implement parts of the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan project including the Green Development Standard and a Green Energy Retrofit Program
Municipalities will be prevented from addressing energy efficiency and climate change in new buildings such as required by Cobourg’s planned Green Development Standards (GDS) and ICSP. The proposed amendments could result in negatively impacting the Town’s ability to address climate change through the Site Plan approval process.
Cobourg Staff (Tracey and Anne) state that:
…the key objective of Bill 23 is to address the province’s housing shortage, improve affordability, reduce red tape, and make it easier to build more housing, more quickly. While Planning Staff agree with this objective in theory, proposed changes because of Bill 23 will have significant and potentially detrimental impacts to our community, including to the Town’s:
- Heritage resources;
- Financial position; and,
- Overall land use planning processes that have resulted in building liveable and complete neighbourhoods in the Town of Cobourg.
If passed, I would conclude that staff are saying that Bill 23 if passed unmodified would:
- Render the new ICSP useless and bar the Town from requiring sustainable developments
- Result in increased taxes to pay for the services to developments which are not paying Development charges – and might not even ensure more affordable housing
- Cause fewer homes to be preserved for their Heritage
- Result in fewer green spaces with less protection.
But read for yourself the documents supplied to Councillors – long but informative. Better than other summaries you might come across. Or see the actual proposed legislation.
- Staff Memo – An Overview of Bill 23 – “More Homes Built Faster Act” (10 pages pdf)
- Appendix A – Bill 23 Summary Table Cobourg
- Appendix B – Draft Resolution Bill 23
- Urban Design Guidelines
- Bill 23 as of October 31, 2022 – Status (Nov 23): Third Reading – debate adjourned.