Fort Erie’s response to ‘Cutting Red Tape’ is a mixed bag

As the province continues its attempts to tackle the housing shortage, town staff responded to changes brought on by a recent piece of proposed legislation with a mixture of good, bad and indifferent.

With Bill 185, also known as the Cutting Red Tape to Build More Homes Act, and the proposed Provincial Planning Statement update open for commenting, staff prepared a report to council responding to some of the proposed changes.

Councillors got an overview during a presentation at the April 22 council meeting, and approved a recommendation to have Mayor Wayne Redekop formally submit the comments to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Credit: Town of Fort Erie

Senior community planner Aaron Hair outlined those changes and staff responses. Many of the changes involve the province reversing course on earlier decisions.

“I thought Mr. Hair did an excellent job summarizing it, and I thought the government is doing an excellent job backtracking on some of their previous decisions,” Redekop said.

Here’s a breakdown of the town’s responses to Bill 185:

WHERE THEY AGREE

Town staff agreed with the proposal to extend the limitation of third party appeal rights to “to municipally approved official plans, official plan amendments, zoning by-laws and zoning by-law amendments,” the report reads.

Earlier legislation introduced the concept of a “specified person”, which are entities such as utilities or service providers.

“The general member of the public, yes, their appeal rights would be removed,” said Hair, responding to a question from Redekop.

“The council then would be responsible for ensuring that their rights are recognized,” Redekop said.

Though appeal rights would be limited, Hair said the public hearing process would remain. He called it an “important and integral” part of the planning process.

“(Public hearings) give council the ability to hear all the concerns the public has and lets council make an informed decision,” he said.

Staff are also supportive of changes to development charges that undo previous changes to the five-year phase in of increased development charges, and once again allowing the cost of development charge background studies to be included as a capital cost. 

“These are important studies that help the municipality plan for their growth in a sustainable and responsible manner,” Hair said.

Another proposed reversal staff support is revoking the fee refund provisions the province put in place for municipalities that didn’t make a decision on certain planning applications in a required time frame.

A new framework for minister’s zoning orders found support from town staff, along with the proposed removal of the community infrastructure housing accelerator. In a twist, this came shortly after the Town dealt with a rare MZO request of its own.

Hair said staff could support the proposal because it requires the applicant to justify why an MZO is needed instead of the normal urban boundary expansion process. However, he did stress that MZOs should be the exception.

There are also some proposals that Hair described as “use it or lose it”, meaning approvals could be revoked if development didn’t occur in a certain time frame. He said staff are supportive, though stressed there can be unique circumstances that may require extensions.

With the decline of print publication in many communities, the province is also proposing to change some of the public notice requirements, allowing towns and cities to post to their website and on social media. Hair said they’re supportive of the proposal and will work with the Town’s communications staff to develop policy if it ultimately goes through.

Finally, staff gave partial support to proposals to streamline certain community service and postsecondary facility projects. Hair said they have no problem with exempting postsecondary institutions from the Planning Act, though they’d like to see some kind of municipal review for community service builds like schools and hospitals.

WHERE THEY DISAGREE

Staff are opposed to a plan to increase the ability for the private sector to apply for urban boundary expansion. Hair said staff are concerned this could lead to excess urban sprawl.

They’re also opposed to a plan to remove some pre-consultation requirements. Hair said pre-consultation is an important step and worried removing those requirements could end up costing time for proposed developments.

“(Pre-consultation) helps move the applications through the process in a more expeditious manner,” he said.

AND THE REST

A few of the proposals would have little to no impact on Fort Erie, staff said. These include changes to areas around major transit hubs, a proposal to lapse any approved draft plan of subdivision from before March 27, 1995 that has not been registered–Fort Erie has none, according to staff–and some proposed changes to additional unit regulations.

The report said staff will continue to monitor some areas, including an area that discusses undefined “small multi-unit residential developments”, proposals to remove planning responsibilities from upper tier municipalities, potential new authorities under the Municipal Act, and possible changes to parking space requirements.

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