If the recommendations of the Ontario Task Force on Housing Affordability—the shift of responsibility for urban planning from the municipalities to the province will be complete. 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.
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 maximum, ensure people can take part digitally, mandate the delegation of technical decisions, prevent abuse of the heritage process and 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 common sense changes that would allow housing to be built more quickly and affordably.
Largely because of the politicization of the planning process, many proponents look to the Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, to give the go-ahead to projects that should have been approved by the municipality. Even when there is municipal approval, however, opponents appeal to the Tribunal – paying only a $400 fee – knowing that this may well succeed in delaying a project to the point where it might no longer make economic sense. As a result, the Tribunal faces a backlog of more than 1,000 cases and is seriously under-resourced.
The new plan seek to weed out or prevent appeals aimed purely at delaying projects, allow adjudicators to award costs to proponents in more cases, including instances where a municipality has refused an approval to avoid missing a legislated deadline, reduce the time to issue decisions, increase funding, and encourage the Tribunal to prioritize cases that would increase housing supply quickly as it tackles the backlog.
The recommendations call for Ontario government to create a large “Ontario Housing Delivery Fund” and encourage the federal government to match funding, and suggest how the province should reward municipalities that support change and reduce funding for municipalities that do not.