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Why a 4-storey apartment could be coming to a residential street near you | CBC News

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The task force asked to find ways to make Ontario housing more affordable wants to do away with rules that entrench single-family homes as the main option in many residential neighbourhoods, according to a draft report.

The nine-member Housing Affordability Task Force, chaired by Scotiabank CEO Jake Lawrence, wants to “create a more permissive land use, planning, and approvals systems” and throw out rules that stifle change or growth — including ones that protect the “character” of neighbourhoods across the province.

The wide-ranging 31-page draft report, which is making the rounds in municipal planning circles and could look much different when it’s officially released Jan. 31, makes 58 recommendations.

It includes discussions on speeding up approval processes, waiving development charges for infill projects, allowing vacant commercial property owners to transition to residential units, and letting urban boundaries expand “efficiently and effectively.”

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It also calls for all municipalities — and building code regulations — not to make it just easier for homeowners to add secondary suites, garden homes, and laneway houses to their properties, but also to increase height, size and density along “all major and minor arterials and transit corridors” in the form of condo and apartment towers.

One of the task force’s recommendations is to create rules that would bypass community opposition to adding density in existing neighbourhoods. (Kate Porter/CBC)

4-storey complexes in all neighbourhoods

But perhaps the most controversial recommendation is the one to virtually do away with so-called exclusionary zoning, which allows only a single-family detached home to be built on a property.  

Instead, the task force recommends that in municipalities with a population of more than 100,000, the province should “allow any type of residential housing up to four storeys and four units on a single residential lot,” subject to urban design guidance that’s yet to be defined.

According to the report, Ontario lags behind many other G7 countries when it comes to the number of dwellings per capita. And housing advocates have long argued that more modest-projects — duplexes, triplexes, tiny homes and townhouses — are needed in established neighbourhoods, especially if the environmental and infrastructure costs of sprawl are to be avoided.

But neighbourhood infill and intensification is often a hard political sell

“While everyone might agree that we have a housing crisis, that we have a climate emergency, nobody wants to see their neighbourhoods change,” said Coun. Glen Gower, who co-chairs Ottawa’s planning committee. “So that’s really the challenge that we’re dealing with in Ottawa and in Ontario.”

After last week’s housing summit with Ontario’s big city mayors, reporters repeatedly asked Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark if he supported doing away with zoning for single-detached homes, as other jurisdictions like Edmonton and major New Zealand cities have done.

Clark said he’d heard the idea but did not give a direct answer one way or the other.

Coun. Glen Gower is the co-chair of Ottawa council’s planning committee. He welcomes the discussion about housing affordability in the task force report, but concedes that allowing four-storey, four-unit dwellings in every neighbourhood could be a hard sell. (CBC)

Reduce construction barriers, approval requirements

Many of the recommendations revolve around making it easier and faster for builders to construct homes.

According to the draft report, not only would a streamlined process allow dwellings to get on the market faster, but reducing approval times would also save developers money which, in theory, could be passed onto residents.

The report cites an Ontario Association of Architects study from 2018 showing that costs for a 100-unit condo building increase by $193,000 for every month the project is delayed.

Delays in approvals cost developers and, theoretically, residents more money, according to the draft report. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

That’s why, for example, the task force is recommending that any “underutilized or redundant commercial properties” be allowed to be converted to residential units without municipal approvals.

The draft report also calls for quasi-automatic approval for projects up to 10 units that conform to existing official plans and zoning, and goes so far to recommend that municipalities “disallow public consultations” for these applications.

The report speaks to reducing what the task force characterizes as “NIMBY” factors in planning decisions, recommending the province set Ontario-wide standards for specifics like setbacks, shadow rules and front doors, while excluding details like exterior colour and building materials from the approval process.

The task force would even eliminate minimum parking requirements for new projects.

Politicians say more than just supply needed

The report touches on a number of subjects it believes unnecessarily delay the building of new homes, including how plans approved by city councils can be appealed.

It recommends the province restore the right of developers to appeal official plans — a power that was removed by the previous Liberal government.

And in an effort to eliminate what it calls “nuisance” appeals, the task force recommends that the fee a third party — such as a community group — pays to appeal projects to the Ontario Land Tribunal should be increased from the current $400 to $10,000. 

NDP housing critic Jessica Bell supports doing away with exclusionary zoning, but says many more measures, including building more affordable homes, are needed. (CBC)

That doesn’t sit well with NDP MPP Jessica Bell, the party’s housing critic. 

“My initial take is that any attempt to make the land tribunal even more difficult for residents to access is concerning,” said Bell, adding the NDP is asking stakeholders and community members for feedback.

The tribunal can overturn a municipal council’s “democratically decided law,” she said, “and I would be pretty concerned if it costs $10,000 for a third party to go to the land tribunal and bring up some valid evidence.”

We need a more holistic and comprehensive approach than what we are seeing in this draft report right now.– NDP housing critic Jessica Bell

While she was pleased to see the task force address zoning reform to encourage the construction of townhomes, duplexes and triplexes in existing neighbourhoods — the so-called “missing middle” between single-family homes and condo towers — Bell said increasing supply is not enough to improve housing for all Ontarians.

“We need government investment in affordable housing,” she said.

“We need better protections for renters, and we need measures to clamp down on speculation in the housing market … We need a more holistic and comprehensive approach than what we are seeing in this draft report right now.”

(While the task force was directed by the province to focus on increasing the housing supply through private builders, it acknowledges in the report that “Ontario’s affordable housing shortfall was raised in almost every conversation” with stakeholders.)

Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner says he’s opposed to the task force’s recommendation to allow urban boundaries to expand. (CBC)

Expanding urban boundaries another concern

From his first reading of the report, Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner agreed with the zoning recommendations but said streamlined processes need to be balanced with maintaining public consultations and heritage designations.

“One of my concerns with my very quick read of the draft report is that it talks about expanding urban boundaries … and I’m opposed to that,” he told CBC.

“We simply can’t keep paving over the farmland that feeds us, the wetlands that clean our drinking water [and] protect us from flooding, especially when we already have about 88,000 acres within existing urban boundaries in southern Ontario available for development,” he said.

Schreiner said he’s also “deeply concerned” that the report discusses aligning housing development with the province’s plan for Highway 413 in the GTA.

“I simply don’t think we can spend over $10 billion to build a highway that will supercharge climate pollution, supercharge sprawl, making life less affordable for people and paving over 2,000 acres of farmland, 400 acres of the Greenbelt and crossing over 85 waterways,” he said.

According to the draft, the task force consulted with builders, planners, architects, realtors, labour unions, social justice advocates, municipal politicians, academics, researchers and planners. 

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