Hamilton City Council Says Provincial Planning Changes will Cost Hamilton Taxpayers More, Harm Housing Approvals.

“The More Homes for Everyone Act should really be renamed the More Money from Campaign Donors Act,” says Ward 8 Hamilton City Councillor John-Paul Danko.

“The Province is downloading the cost of development to municipal taxpayers.”

Hamilton City Council opposes Bill 109, the provincial Conservative legislation that will change the Planning Act that Hamilton City Council says will do nothing to address housing prices and will instead cost Hamilton taxpayers while developers get even richer.

Bill 109 will force municipalities to refund development fees, create more parkland deficiencies along transit corridors, and increases the Minister of Municipal Affairs’ powers to overturn local comprehensive official plans [urban boundaries], while increasing costs upon municipalities.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger says Hamilton taxpayers are being forced to subsidize new development and sprawl.

“We’ve said all along, growth needs to pay for growth,” the mayor says. “Now we’re doubling down on existing taxpayers to pay for the kind of growth that developers obviously want.”

Both Eisenberger and Danko said the bill will not address the housing crisis.

Eisenberger notes the prices of houses are increasing due to low interest rates, not municipal policies.

“People are paying more and are able to pay more because they’re able to able to pay more on a monthly basis based on the low interest rates. That’s the main driver and in the absence of fixing that prices are going to continue to escalate,” says Eisenberger.

There are approximately 35,000 approved housing units that developers can build right now, says Hamilton’s Director of Planning and Chief Planner Steve Robichaud.

“Some are already zoned” and others are “working their way through the planning approvals process,” he says. Hamilton grows by approximately 3000 units per year, Robichaud says the unbuild units “equate to a 12-year supply” of new housing.

Overriding Local Comprehensive Plans (Urban Boundary Expansion)

Two weeks ago, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark stated he plans to send Hamilton City Council’s plan to the Ontario Land Tribunal “as an impartial adjudicator.”

The OLT is required by the Planning Act to implement provincial planning policies, which are set by the Minister. It is not an independent adjudicator.

Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark is concerned that Bill 109 does not require the OLT to hold a hearing for matters referred by the Minister.

“Section 58 of the Bill … the Tribunal may hold a hearing doesn’t say shall hold a hearing. Which is a little bit disturbing,” says Clark

Application Fee Refunds and Unrealistic Timelines

Bill 109 will require municipalities to refund a portion of development application fees whenever Council fails to decide within 90 days of receiving a zoning application, or 120 days for an official plan amendment.

A full refund must be provided after 180 days for zoning or 240 for OPA applications.

Anita Fabac, Manager of Development Planning [de-facto a deputy chief planner], described the challenge of meeting the 90 day deadline, even in ideal conditions.

It takes 30 days to deem an application complete, Fabac states.

The City then must circulate it to various agencies (utilities, conservation authorities, provincial and federal ministries), and wait 20 days for those bodies to review and comment.

There is 17 day public notice requirement, prior to the Council Planning Committee’s consideration of applications, and another 8 days between Planning Committee and Council’s ratification meeting.

“75 days,” Fabac said. “That would leave the planner, the applicant, as well as engineering and other staff 15 days to review all the information to negotiate any changes with the applicant and then write a staff report.”

Robichaud says Bill 109 will force the City to deny applications before the refund deadlines.

“After 120 days, if it was an official plan amendment, we would have to refund the money to the applicant, even if the applicant didn’t ask for a fee refund.”

Three days prior to the special council meeting, at council’s planning meeting, the lawyer for an Ancaster developer asked council to defer making a decision on their mid-rise application.

The developer stated they wanted more time to negotiate with staff, rather than having to appeal a Council denial to the Ontario Land Tribunal. Council voted deny because of the looming 90 day decision deadline, and a concern the developer would appeal to the OLT for non-decision after 90 days.

“We saw this on Tuesday, where the applicant said they were in no rush for a decision, they knew they needed at least another 90 or 120 days to respond to the staff comments,” Robichaud said.

Bill 109 “really removes that discretion from Council to work with the applicant and the community. Because there’s a financial penalty,” Robichaud said.

Decreasing Parkland Dedication Fees along the LRT corridor

“The province is also looking at a lower standard for parkland dedication around transit oriented development,” Robichaud informed Council.

Robichaud says this will make it harder for the City to address the existing “parkland deficiency” in the Lower City.

He says new population growth will “further aggravate that parkland deficiency, rather than maintaining it at a neutral state in the sense that new development should pay for growth should pay for growth, and that includes the adequate provision of Parkland.”

Elections and Politics

Many members of City Council criticized the political motivatives they say are driving Bill 109.

“It’s pretty clear that this is a conservative election stratagem … It may well backfire,” says Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr.

Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson calls the Bill “obviously egregious, and political,”

Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann says it is “clearly an unnecessary and unfair overreach on a fast track to approval.”

Eisenberger says “the planning regime can be fixed, it can be improved,” saying this Bill will do the opposite.

“The chances of this government getting back into office [after the provincial election] is really high. We need to understand that,” noted Clark.

Bill 109 is expected to be passed in the Legislative Assembly, where the Progressive Conservatives hold the majority of seats, later this month.

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First published: April 11, 2022
Last edited: April 11, 2022
Author: Joey Coleman
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