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E-BLAST: Bill 109: Racing Against New Development Timelines

Dec 8, 2022

A couple weeks ago, I touched on Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, and the many unwelcome changes it makes to our planning process. While this most recent Provincial housing bill has been all over the news, today I want to take a step back and talk about its predecessor: Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act. This bill also drastically changes our planning process here in Toronto, and our planning department has recently spelled out exactly what our city needs to do to meet the new Provincial requirements. Let's dive into it.

Bill 109 passed last spring and was framed as the result of the Premier's Housing Affordability Task Force. This Task Force was meant to suggest ways to streamline the development approvals process and use any resulting savings to create more affordable housing. The Premier brought together respected academics, affordable ownership housing creators, and leading realtors from across the province to sit on the task force. Notably, not a single City Planner from anywhere in Ontario was included to lend their first-hand experience. While some recommendations of the task force were welcomed, others were criticized for giving too much advantage to private sector developers and not doing enough to generate a range of affordable housing opportunities. We need to build more housing all along the housing spectrum, and that requires a range of strategies that weren't fully reflected in the Task Force's recommendations. The Province incorporated many of the Task Force's recommendations into Bill 109. The most notable change, and the one that has the biggest impact on the development process, is a new penalty that comes into effect on January 1, 2023 and could cripple city budgets and particularly planning departments. Bill 109 sets impossibly tight timelines for cities to consider, consult on, revise, and approve development applications. If cities do not meet these timelines, applicants will have the power to demand a partial or full refund of their application fees.

The Bill 109 Application Fee Refund Schedule. Click on the image to view a larger version. It's important to note that application fees are not a revenue tool, but a cost-recovery mechanism. They fully cover the cost of the staff time and City resources required to review development applications, meaning that we don't need to draw on your property taxes to fund our planning department. The chart above shows what percentage of application fees will be refunded if the city does not make application decisions within certain timeframes. City Planning could potentially lose up to $70 million per year in fees as a result of these penalties if we don't make big changes to our planning process. I'm sure you can understand that the timelines spelled out above are very tight. Our current planning process usually sees the first community consultation meeting held around four months after a development application is filed. Now, we'll need a final decision on an application by that time to avoid a refund. To use a local example, the buildings at Parkway Forest were approved after a rigorous, 18-month community planning process that was supported by a $400,000 application fee. Under Bill 109, that entire process would have to be completed in less than a quarter of the time at the risk of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Clearly, we need to make substantial changes to our planning process to meet these deadlines. Our Chief Planner, Gregg Lintern, recently presented a report to Executive Committee outlining these process changes, which are shown in a helpful diagram below:

Our Chief Planner has presented the most workable solution to this new legislation possible. Under the new system, applicants will be required to meet with the City before formally submitting their application. This gives an opportunity to flag basic issues before the application clock starts ticking. We're also going to try out hosting multiple community consultations on a given evening to make the best use of our planners' very limited time.

The diagram also shows one of the biggest changes we're making to meet the Province's new timeframes: getting rid of preliminary reports. You might recall this term from many of the development updates I've shared through this E-Blast. Preliminary reports were the first report prepared by staff on a development, and were considered at local community councils before the final report was considered at City Council. Under the new system, City Planning will provide more public information online earlier in the development process to make sure our communities stay informed and make sure Councillors are engaged from the start. This also means that Councillors need to be very proactive in engaging the community. As you all know, I've been sending out detailed development updates in my E-Blast for years. I hope other Councillors follow suit to make sure our communities stay informed under our new model. The Chief Planner has also requested to hire 150 new employees to ensure we can properly review applications within the new timeline. This includes new city planners, transportation planners, parks planners, and engineers. These would have been welcome resources even before the current spate of Provincial interventions in our planning process, and I intend to support this request wholeheartedly.

Changes to the community consultation process are necessary to meet the new timelines set by the Province. There is merit in streamlining our development process. We're in a housing crisis, and we need to get a diverse range of housing options built ASAP. However, what the Premier's Task Force failed to make clear is that there are many additional factors contributing to Toronto's housing affordability crisis beyond the timing of approvals. Most notably, the number of housing units approved does not necessarily correspond to the number constructed. On average, Toronto approves about 28,000 residential units per year, but only 15,000 get built. If the Premier felt it was necessary to give cities tight timelines to approve applications, I'd like to see him hold builders to the same standard to ensure they get started on construction right away to actually get housing built.

Here in Don Valley North, I'm blessed to have so many community groups engaged in local development. The process changes wrought by Bill 109 and the follow-up Bill 23 are going to make it harder for our community to be involved in the planning process, but I am committed to do everything I can to keep you engaged. Things will be quiet over the holidays, but I'll be back with a comprehensive development update for all of you in the New Year to make sure we're ready for the many applications coming our way in 2023.


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