BROCKTON – Jack Van Dorp, Bruce County’s manager of land use planning, presented the section of Plan the Bruce on homes.
He began his presentation with the statement, “Everyone needs a home,” and continued to say housing needs vary according to life stages.
The problem in Bruce County is there’s a whole section of housing that’s missing. Almost 84 per cent of dwellings in the county are single-family detached homes, with some low-rise apartment buildings. Missing are duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhouses, apartments above businesses and other varied housing types.
Housing prices and rents are high, the supply is low and new development takes too long. With housing prices rising faster than incomes for many people both in Bruce County and across Ontario, attention needs to be paid to more affordable types of dwellings.
Van Dorp said the Homes Project is about using land use planning tools to increase the supply and mix of homes. The goal is to have more people able to live in the size and type of home they need, close to jobs, services and amenities.
The Official Plan (OP) is a key tool that can influence housing. Other Bruce County resources are the long-term housing strategy, housing and homelessness plan update, Bruce GPS public engagement related to housing, and the land use service delivery review (OP best practices).
Also, to be considered is the additional residential units amendment to the OP – pre-consultation is underway.
Van Dorp said there are a number of factors aggravating the housing challenges in Ontario. These include seasonal properties being used for short-term rental, or for full-time occupancy, increasing both the transient seasonal population and the demand for service to include not just the high season but shoulder seasons, and in many cases, full-year occupancy.
In theory at least, COVID-19 work-from-home policies led to a migration of people from Toronto to more affordable parts of the province, causing increased prices, bidding wars and increased competition for houses in rural Ontario.
Van Dorp outlined key observations in Bruce County, starting with the growing disparity between high- and low-income workers.
“We have $150,000 incomes (16 per cent vs. nine per cent in the rest of the province), but that’s a mixed blessing,” he said.
People moving to this area and local population growth are adding to housing pressures. Van Dorp said growth pressures will likely remain uneven in Bruce County communities.
We have an aging population with an interest in downsizing, but also growth in the number of young people.
He said there are 13 recommended directions for consultation. The goal is to increase and maintain the supply of affordable housing including rental units through additional units, smaller homes and more flexibility for development.
“Housing affordability poses challenges for over half our population,” noted Van Dorp.
The recommendations included speeding up the process for developers and maintaining a land inventory.
Using surplus public lands for homes was another recommendation.
The 13th recommendation was one that Van Dorp described as the “tool of last resort,” the stick that’s used when the carrot doesn’t work – requiring affordable housing. It could be applied to developments of more than 10 units, he said.
In closing, he urged council to “get involved, give your input (on the survey), and help plan the Bruce.”
The next step is to collect the feedback from municipalities and use the data to create the draft OP.
Mayor Chris Peabody commented on the “good, creative ideas” outlined in the presentation.
“What concerns me is almost 60 per cent are having trouble (finding affordable housing),” he added.
Coun. Steve Adams also commented on affordability.
“More and more, it’s becoming a housing crisis,” he said.
Coun. Kym Hutcheon noted that duplexes are being encouraged, but she’s observed they end up being the same price as detached houses.
“They make them more luxurious,” she said.
Report on Plan the Bruce
Later in the meeting, council heard the report on the Bruce County Official Plan consultation, presented by Dieter Weltz, chief building official.
He told council his main focus is to ensure “flexibility is being considered and incorporated into all areas of the planning review.”
With that in mind, he said staff are seeking comment and direction from council. That, and staff recommendations, will be forwarded to the county.
His report touched on natural heritage features, the need to ensure accuracy in mapping, flexibility and allowing development in rural areas where appropriate.
Regarding farm size, his report indicates 50-acre lots should be considered for the entire municipality, not just within the original 50-acre survey area. The intent would be to allow new farmers greater access to land.
The traditional square or rectangular lot for surplus farm dwelling severances was Weltz’ preference, as was implementation of additional dwelling units. His report also said the bona fide farmer requirement should stay in the OP.
Residential lots in woodlots create access problems, Weltz said, since they tend to be at the back of farm parcels.
However, the report indicates support for industrial and commercial uses on farms, and incorporating urban-agriculture edge planning, which would benefit both urban and rural communities.
As for cannabis production, Weltz’ report stated, “Cannabis is a plant and growing plants … is agriculture. The onsite industrial and commercial processes are where difficulties arise…. Potential odour nuisances need to be considered … to mitigate conflict.”
When it comes to housing, the report stressed a balanced approach to allow flexibility in growth, density and affordability, with homes of various sizes and types including options for estate-style housing in hamlet areas.
Coun. Tim Elphick voiced a caution about removing the bona fide farmer requirement.
“Any changes should benefit farmers,” he said.
Coun. Dean Leifso said he prefers to see surplus farm dwellings sold rather than torn down.
The mayor commented that although “there’s a huge demand for larger estate lots out in the country,” the province doesn’t allow it.
“It’s not right to funnel everything into Walkerton. Everyone here is on board with that, but the province is not,” he said.
Peabody went on to say he supports additional dwelling units and affordable housing.
Adams said he liked the comment about the “balanced approach.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times