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Hamilton staff push back against provincial density plans

Hamilton staff push back against provincial density plans

Hamilton City Staff had some pointed pushback against the recommendations of the Ontario Task Force on Housing Affordability which was released last month. The Task force, headed by Jake Lawrence, a Royal Bank executive says Ontario must “set a bold goal of adding 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years and update planning guidance to make this a priority.”

The changes recommended by the task force would drastically change the planning and approvals process, Concepts like “neighbourhood character,” already threatened, would go out the window. Instead the province would allow more housing in more locations “as of right” (without the need for municipal approval) and make better use of transportation investments.

The plan would set uniform provincial standards for urban design, including building shadows and setbacks, do away with rules that prioritize preservation of neighbourhood physical character over new housing, no longer require municipal approval of design matters like a building’s colour, texture, type of material or window details, and remove or reduce parking requirements in cities over 50,000 in population.

Curbs on public consultation, heritage designations and delaying tactics

Those that use the approval process as a way of delaying will not be happy with rules that would require municipalities to limit consultations to the legislated minimum, ensure people can take part digitally, mandate the delegation of technical decisions, prevent abuse of the heritage process, see property owners compensated for financial loss resulting from designation, restore the right of developers to appeal Official Plans and Municipal Comprehensive Reviews, legislate timelines for approvals and enact several other what were referred to as common sense changes that would allow housing to be built more quickly and affordably.

In a report to next weeks planning committee staff provided a number of concerns about the legislative changes:

Hamilton planning staff concerns

  • The emphasis is on being more permissive and expediting processes for approvals, but not addressing tools or mechanisms to ensure proposed developments are actually built and in a reasonable time;
  • Changes to growth funding tools such as Development Charges, Parkland Dedication and Community Benefit Charges, which would shift the cost of growth-related infrastructure to existing taxpayers instead of growth paying for growth. Opponents of sprawl already insist that current growth is not paying for itself.
  • A ‘one size fits all’ approach to land use planning across the Province, fails to recognize the variation that exists and could create mismatched land use planning tools to meet the objective of increasing affordable housing supply and complete communities;
  • Removal of public consultation requirements is not supported by staff, as it removes the opportunity for meaningful conversation to improve the outcome of a development through early identification of issues and opportunities. This dialogue allows applicants to respond to concerns and allows the municipality to educate the public as to what a municipality can / cannot regulate;  
  • The term “abuse” is used with regards to heritage preservation and urban design considerations. The Province has already made significant changes to the Ontario Heritage Act. A province-wide approach to drastically changing tools that help ensure high quality urban design, does not recognize that both heritage and urban design add value to the planning process and contribute to creating distinct communities and enjoyable spaces.

Water and wastewater system will need expensive upgrades in older areas of the city

One red flag staff raised several times in its detailed response to the fast-tracking plan, is the impact that a rapid increase in high rise buildings in  the core and other developed areas will have on existing water and wastewater services. Density advocates have created the impression that there is no limit on the capacity of the existing sewers and watermains to service new builds. The staff report says “ From a water and wastewater servicing perspective, planning for unpredictable “unlimited” densities would be problematic… Major infrastructure improvements would be required, and very difficult to plan, in order to facilitate “unlimited” growth.”

Council will get an opportunity to add its comments to the response

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