Cobden -- Whitewater Region council is in the final stages of approving a development charges by-law for the municipality which council will pass at its May 5 meeting.
Since September 2019, consultants with Watson and Associates have been preparing a report on growth and development charges for the municipality.
Last Wednesday, April 7, three members of the public attended the public meeting, held via ZOOM, hosted by the municipality with Daryl Abbs of Watson and Associates as the presenter of the report.
The purpose of development charges is to recover the capital costs associated with growth within a municipality, Mr. Abbs explained.
“The capital costs are in addition to what costs would normally be constructed as part of a subdivision,” he said, giving the examples of roads, sewers, sidewalks, watermains, etc.
Mr. Abbs then reviewed a prepared report for council and the three residents, Joe Kowalski, Lorrie Caldwell and Donna Burns. While these three people had opportunity to make comments and ask questions, there may have been others watching the meeting online not able to participate in the discussion.
Township planner Ivan Burton advised he had already met with various developers in person, including BEI, Vereyken and Buchanan, to discuss development charges.
“They all know that development charges are inevitable,” he said.
Mr. Burton was planning to bring a report to council today (April 14) looking for direction from council as to how it would like to proceed from the options provided by Mr. Abbs.
Mr. Kowalski said this is a “once in a century event,” noting it was 100 years ago the Spanish flu pandemic was occurring at the end of World War I.
“Cities will never be the same again,” he said. “People want out of the urban environment” and with the internet and technology of today, “people are able to work remotely.”
He said it’s important that in order to have growth and development, it must be made easier for developers to develop.
“Do you know what is the hardest thing to get done in Whitewater Region, as well as Renfrew County?” he asked. “It’s to sever a lot.
“Everything is against development,” Mr. Kowalski said. “There is a war between urban and rural Ontario.”
Mr. Kowalski noted the largest accommodation provider has no buildings, and that is AirBnB, while the largest taxi company, Uber, does not own a vehicle.
“Do you know what I’d like to see in Whitewater Region?” he questioned. “Hundreds and hundreds of mini-developers.”
Mr. Kowalski noted with development charges, “it is beyond the average person … to do a planned subdivision.
“I’d like to see AirBnB and Uber growth in Whitewater Region.”
A resident for almost 50 years in Whitewater Region, he has not seen a lot of development. The municipality needs to balance its books and have growth and development, he said, adding he believes growth and development will be a “defining issuing for next year’s (municipal) election.”
He believes it’s important to count money at the end of a development, not the start, because it won’t be the moms and pops doing the development because it’s the developers who have the deep pockets.
“You need to make it easy for the moms and pops, the AirBnB and Uber businesses,” Mr. Kowalski said.
Ms. Caldwell agreed.
“The BEIs can pick up 100 per cent of the development charge, while the moms and dads cannot pay for the development charges,” she said. “The average Joe can’t do a subdivision. They are left out of the major developments.”
There are people in this region who are retired, on fixed incomes, low incomes, Ms. Caldwell said. With development charges, prices will be increased 20 per cent, she noted.
“You are pushing a segment of the population out of home ownership,” she said. “You must accommodate them.”
Ms. Burns said during this pandemic, it’s a “very poor time to consider” development charges.
Building is going to stall “for some time to come” due to the scarcity of building materials and the services that are in the development charges are already paid on property taxes, she said.
“Why add an additional tax?” she asked.
Councillors Chris Olmstead and Neil Nicholson both had “tons of questions” but did not want to take up the time at this meeting to bring them forward.
As the owner of Olmstead’s Home Hardware in Cobden, Coun. Olmstead said the only building materials available are those who ordered a long time ago.
“There is not much out there,” he said.
He plans to meet with Mr. Burton and address his concerns, which is what Coun. Nicholson intends on doing prior to making a final decision.
Coun. Nicholson said he is fearful development charges will decrease development in the future.
Councillor Daryl McLaughlin said a development charges discussion is not new for the many years he has sat on council, but added this is not the time to bring them in.
Councillor Charlene Jackson said it’s not the developers who will pay the charges, but those who take out the building permits.
“That’s when the charges are assigned and they are then passed on to the new homeowners,” she said.
When there is development, the developer is responsible for the roads, sewers, waterlines, etc., she said.
“We maintain them once the development is done,” she said.
She noted that Arnprior has development charges, and that area is booming.
“Even during the pandemic, they didn’t reduce the development charges,” Coun. Jackson said.
She added development charges are only on brand new construction.
As for the timing, Coun. Jackson asked if there was ever a good time to bring in development charges? “Probably not,” she said.
However, she pointed out the sewage plant “is costing a mint to pay off (the debt) and maintain. We are just asking the new homes to pay a portion of the upgrades.” Services, like water and sewage, are important to development, and that’s why it’s important to have development charges, she said.
Reeve Cathy Regier agreed with Coun. Jackson regarding the timing to bring in development charges.
“Growth has been phenomenal in Whitewater Region,” she said. “It’s inevitable that we have to do this.
“It’s tough during the pandemic to bring them in, but we have to bite the bullet.”
Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader