Hamilton Conservation Authority members will get a belated Christmas lump of coal in their agenda package for January 5th. On the agenda are several letters from the provincial government, all dated late December, outlining how the Building More Homes Faster Act will affect the powers of Conservation authorities. One letter from the Ministry of Natural Resources limits the ability of CA’s to raise the fees they charge for commenting on development applications. Another letter from the same ministry puts limits on CA’s ability to go much beyond flooding and watershed issues in commenting on proposed developments. As the December 28 letter states, the changes “are intended to further focus conservation authorities on their core mandate, support faster and less costly approvals, streamline conservation authority processes, and help make land suitable for housing available for development.” The changes also require CA’s to prepare a list of Conservation lands that are suitable for housing.
The letter acknowledges “this is a time of significant transition for conservation authorities and their member municipalities. Throughout this time, conservation authorities have continued to deliver on their important roles in protecting people and property from natural hazards, conserving and managing lands, and drinking water source protection.” In other words, to stick to their original role of flood control which was their mandate when conservation authorities were established in the 1950’s.
In response to these fundamental reductions in the powers of Conservation Authorities, Staff have prepared an extensive commentary, calling for the retention of the ability to preserve natural heritage and several other powers which will be lessened under the new rules. The report defends the McGuinty Wynne Places to Grow policy saying, it “represents a current and effective provincial land use policy framework that guides municipalities and agencies responsible for planning and development decisions. It is not evident why this existing framework needs to be streamlined or how it may be considered to be hindering housing in the Province.”
The provincial changes spelled out in Bill 23 seem to address the government’s belief that red tape from municipalities and Conservation authorities are the main causes of the housing crisis. Stakeholders will be watching closely over the next four years to see if the fairly significant diminution of local planning powers has the desired effect on housing supply.
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