Whitewater is responding to the provincial push for more homes

Cobden -- Whitewater Region (WWR) is preparing its response to two recent pieces of provincial legislation aimed at accelerating the construction of new homes in Ontario: Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act, and Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act.

The goal of the legislation is to build 1.5 million homes across the province in 10 years. The primary focus of Bill 109 is to expedite and incentivize timely application approvals. Bill 23 is a broader omnibus-style bill that changes several statutes in an effort to reduce perceived regulatory barriers and development fees.

Highlights of the new legislation include allowing up to three residential units per lot, with no minimum unit sizes, in areas that are serviced by both municipal water and sewer systems, with new units built under this permission exempt from development charges and parkland requirements; exemption from site plan control for developments of up to 10 residential units, and exemption from development charges for affordable housing.

The biggest impacts of Bill 109 is the delegation of site plan approval to staff, WWR planner Alex Benzie told council in her report to its February 15 meeting. Until now councils have controlled the process.

“The second biggest impact is the potential for refunded, or partially refunded, application fees for site plans and zoning by-law amendments if approval timelines are not met,” she continued.

The time limit for zoning by-law amendments is 90 days; for site plan amendments 60 days.

CAO Ivan Burton said that generally the municipality should be able to meet that deadline. Nevertheless,

municipalities are to have a refund process in place by July 1st, 2023.

The legislation requires municipalities to spend at least 60 per cent of development charge reserves for priority services such as water, wastewater and roads. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has changed the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System (OWES). OWES assessments are what designate Provincially Significant Wetlands using a set of criteria. The new system has a reduced set of criteria, yet the score to qualify as “provincially significant” is the same, making it harder for a wetland to qualify for such designation.

One of the key changes to the criteria is the elimination of the concept of wetland complexes. A wetland complex recognizes that smaller wetlands group together to form a larger, complex whole that serves a number of ecological purposes (including habitat and flood protection). Now, under the new framework, each individual component wetland will be evaluated individually, which may lead to smaller wetlands losing their provincially significant status.

Further changes to the land use planning system in Ontario, including changes to natural heritage planning, cultural heritage planning, and housing options in rural areas, are under discussion.

Affordable housing development is now exempt from parkland dedication.

The County of Renfrew is in the process of updating its Official Plan (OP) to provide municipalities with flexibility in using these tools.

“Staff support the province’s aim of encouraging greater housing supply and a greater diversity of housing types,” said Ms. Benzie.

She clarified that in Whitewater, the up to three units per property provision will only apply to the Village of Cobden, the only area in the township that has both municipal water and sewer systems. This change, together with waived development charges, will make it easier for residents of Cobden to add an additional unit to their home.

“Adding units and housing supply to places where servicing exists can provide a net financial benefit to the township,” she said.

She noted that changes to the development charge system have been one of the most controversial aspects of Bill 23.

“At this time, the only types of development to be exempt from development charges, or have reduced development charges, in the township as a result of the new legislation are additional units, affordable units, and purpose-built rental units,” she said. “Reducing fees and charges for affordable or additional units is a municipal best practice for addressing local housing scarcity, and several municipalities across the province have already been doing so. Given the challenges with housing shortage in the county, staff support this change.”

Mayor Neil Nicholson commented on the impact of the changes to development charges.

“The funds we were counting on for upgrades in wastewater and water systems aren’t there now,” he said.

Ms. Menzie noted that this deficit may be offset by the increase in housing units resulting in an increase in assessed value.

“Staff will be exploring options to ensure that development, particularly waterfront development, is following best practices for lot grading and drainage, erosion and sediment control, and habitat protection,” she added.

The county is in the process of updating its Official Plan (OP) to implement the changes from both bills, via an OP amendment. The first public meeting on the amendment took place on December 21, 2022, and a second public meeting will be scheduled. The intent of the amendment is to give municipalities that use the OP the ability, through the passing of a by-law, to mandate pre-consultation; enhance complete application requirements; and delegate the approval authority of site plans and minor zoning amendments to staff. The amendment also addresses changes to site plan control and additional unit provisions, as well as the refund requirements of fees in the case of applications that are not dealt with within the prescribed timeframe.

The County OP amendment does not include changes to the WWR policies within the document.

Ms. Menzie’s report recommended that council direct staff to engage the county around proposed modifications.

Council voted to forward a proposed modification to the County Official Plan and to bring forward amendments to its Delegation of Authority Policy bylaw, in compliance with the provincial requirements.

Marie Zettler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader