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E-BLAST: Planning and Growth in Ontario

After reading the title of this week's E-Blast, you may ask yourself "Why should I care about growth across the entire province?" You may only be interested in Don Valley North, or just the neighbourhood you live in. While I could discuss planning on a local basis alone, it wouldn't give you the whole picture.

This summer, my team and I have been hosting a number of pop-ups in parks across Don Valley North, and many of the attendees asked to sign up for the E-Blast to learn more about development applications in their own neighbourhoods. The biggest thing that governs planning and development decisions in your neighbourhood is a Provincial Policy Statement called “More Homes, More Choice: Ontario’s Housing Supply Action Plan”. I’d like to walk you through the planning process, and how this Provincial Policy Statement has impacted it.

The new Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs, Steve Clark, introduced the “More Homes More Choice” Action Plan early in the first year of the new government. With many of our children and grandchildren depending on a growth in new housing stock, the title sounded good, but the devil was in the details.

My team and I held a park pop-up at Bestview Park last Saturday, and it attracted a lot of community feedback for an upcoming development.

The Plan was numbered Bill 108 and its guiding principles were to:

  • encourage an increase in the mix and supply of housing;

  • protect the environment and public safety;

  • reduce barriers and costs for development and provide greater certainty;

  • support rural, northern and Indigenous communities; and

  • support the economy and job creation.

Bill 108 hoped to achieve these principles by changing the Ontario Planning Act to require more density in cities, especially around transit. The Bill also streamlines the provincial appeals process through a new appeals body called the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). Developers may apply to the OLT when they do not like the local municipal Council decision, or when they face strong community opposition. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves. The tribunal comes much later in the process, the City’s role still comes first. Here are the basic steps we follow in North York:

  1. A landowner – you, me, or a big developer – applies to build on their property or change the use of their property.

  2. A preliminary stage of approximately three months begins. This includes assigning a City planner, reviewing the application to make sure it complies with both City and provincial policies as required by law, and reporting to North York Community Council.

  3. The City, at the developer’s expense, mails notices of the first statutory community consultation through Canada Post. The local Councillor always expands the statutory notice area, so that a much larger group than the provincial policy requires will actually get an invitation mailed to their door.

  4. Based on community reaction, and further review of the details such as angular plane, massing, separation distances, shadowing, traffic modelling and available green space, a series of meetings between applicant and planner take place to adjust plans to resolve these issues accordingly. This stage can take months, depending on the level of change needed to the application.

  5. Here in Don Valley North, depending on the size of the application or level of community impact, I like to create a working group and hold meetings to address and attempt to resolve the biggest points of concern to the community and City planner. While this is not a legislated part of the planning process, I consistently push for it because the best advice comes from the community, when they work through the issues together.

  6. The later stages of the process include the developer’s resubmission, which incorporates changes to their plan. This can become very technical between City planners and the developer, and may take several months. A final staff report to be voted on by Council and the Mayor may take anywhere from 9 months to 24 months from the date of application to complete.

  7. Once the Mayor and Council vote, if approved, the developer’s team must meet a number of technical infrastructure requirements to be able to receive a building permit. This can take another 6 months to a year before construction begins.

The City process often seems opaque or mysterious, but those are essentially the basic steps. What complicates things is that at any point after the first few months, the developer can unilaterally decide the City process is being somehow frustrated and appeal directly to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) for provincial permission to move ahead.

Before the pandemic when we could meet together in-person, we always emphasized the importance of each member present sharing their suggestions and concerns.

This is why City planning staff begin reviewing the application against provincial policy at the most preliminary stage. They know that ultimately, if the developer appeals to the OLT, the City planner will have to defend the recommendations they write in the final report to Council. When everything hinges on a Provincial policy designed to increase the supply of housing, I know that it sounds like the fix is in against the City and community groups alike. You can take heart from the fact that the provincial planning appeal process has been changing. While the provincial adjudicator still often sides with the developer on large applications, the previous provincial government added an element that requires the developer to achieve something called minutes of settlement with the City. While the current provincial government took away the residents’ support office with Bill 108, which makes it harder for residents to launch their own OLT appeal, they left the most crucial thing in. Minutes of settlement are a document that sets out the foundational points of an agreement reached between two or more parties. This document is produced after the negotiations of the agreement or settlement, and is signed by both the parties involved and their respective lawyers. In the development process, developers need to sign a minutes of settlement with the City. If residents are engaged in the City process and have worked with the planner to include their conditions, needs, and reductions, the developer will likely honour these requests to get quickly to their required settlement.

I've been fortunate to meet with community members in-person again as the number of positive COVID-19 cases has decreased, but we need to keep doing our part to keep the community safe.

Right now, there are a number of development applications at various stages of the process in Don Valley North. Recently, we discussed the application at Tyndale University at length at one of my Park Pop-ups. It’s a good example of what I am discussing above. It is a large application with a change of use involved. This application is still in the preliminary stage, and consultation notices won’t be mailed out until September. In the coming weeks, as City staff return from August holidays, my team and I will send out an E-Blast that will present updates on all the ongoing applications in the ward, and when you might expect the next meeting regarding each. In the meantime, remember that while City planners are busy carrying multiple applications and tribunal cases at a time, your Councillor’s office is always available to discuss any development. Virtual meetings about something as challenging as planning and growth are so much more effective when the number of participants is manageable. My team and I are happy to meet with any group, no matter how small, as it can help us all prepare for the much larger statutory meetings. Please call my office if you’d like to set something up. I continue to hope and pray for the day when all discussions and meetings, large or small, can happen in person again.


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