District approves joint submission to the Ministry regarding concerns with Bill 97
The District of Muskoka endorsed staff recommendations regarding the Province’s Bill 97 and proposed regulations, in the May 17, 2023, Council meeting.
On April 6, 2023, the Province released the Bill in support of the Helping Homebuyer, Protecting Tenants Act 2023. They also proposed a draft of a new Provincial Planning Statement (PPS) allowing for a 60-day commenting period.
The District and six lower-tier municipalities expressed joint concerns regarding the new legislation and PPS.
The changes can impact areas such as the Building Code, Development Charges, Municipal Planning, and Resident Tenancies.
Staff are concerned about the new policies being “more permissive.” The changes are in line with other recent amendments by the Province’s Build More Homes Faster Act. Impact to District goals can include climate change, by impairing their ability to implement measures, compromising environment protections for wetlands and other sensitive areas.
For instance, Huntsville and Lake of Bays are the only municipalities that have an approved Community Planning Permit System (CPPS) in place, and the other municipalities need the Site Plan Control (SPC) in waterfront locations to protect the health of the lake systems. So, they are requesting the province allow the use of SPC without the CPPS in place.
According to the report, “The new change would allow SPC for developments with under 10 units where development is proposed within 120 metres of a shoreline or within 300 metres of a railway line.” This approach that has been previously implemented for decades would ensure better water quality protection.
Settlement area and boundary policies is another concern because rather than be considered during a traditional comprehensive review, it removes existing requirements of planning authorities and allows them to identify new settlement areas or expansion of them at any time. The staff report continues, “Decisions of this magnitude should not be driven by stakeholders (i.e., developers and landowners).
“This change will undoubtedly result in the value of land surrounding urban boundaries rising exponentially, due to the sudden increase in their viability for greenfield development far beyond the services and amenities that are provided in currently built-up areas in our community areas,” indicates the report. The increase in underdeveloped lands interferes with the municipality's ability to provide housing, increases costs of extending services to outer boundaries, and the land preparation will increase construction costs causing land to sit undeveloped or to develop large single-family homes that the average buyer can’t afford.
According to the report, “There are 90 active draft approved plans of subdivisions counting a total of 5843 residential units, many of which are located at the edge of our current urban settlement boundaries and have sat dormant for decades with all approvals in place, but no development has occurred.” There are also 2822 vacant lots in urban areas, and that already face challenges such as lot size and zoning issues, contributing to a significant inventory of unused land.
Multi-lot residential development in rural areas is another concern. The PPS has gone from “limited residential development” in 2014, to “multi-lot residential development” in 2023. The report indicates there are already 7702 year-round vacant lots containing roads that are maintained by the municipality, and 3188 on private roads. Given that residential developments are spread out across rural areas it can be costly for the municipality to provide services to them, and they would require personal transportation, and lead to isolation, which is in contrast to the provincial goal of “complete communities.”
Private communal water and sewage systems servicing rural residential development is another issue raised by the municipalities, with the PPS having a stronger emphasis on “permitting and encouraging use of services.” The report continues, “the Province stipulates that municipalities are ultimately responsible for ensuring that these systems remain operable and safe.” Because of the size of the Muskoka watershed, this type of servicing can pose environmental, financial, and legal risks.
Municipalities also expressed concerns with the “Conversion of Commercial and Industrial Buildings to Residential units.” This is another measure to allow for greater flexibility for increasing residential units. The concern is that this poses a threat to maintaining commercial and retail functions that contribute to “complete communities.”
Council members expressed concerns about the restrictions to municipalities and number of vacant lots.
Councillor, Don Smith, inquired about the potential of the vacant year-round lots in rural areas and municipalities servicing them, and inquired about the feasibility of building on these areas and whether they were for sale.
Director of Planning, Lisa Martin, discussed some of the lot requirement challenges, and that some of these vacant lands have issues like steep slopes and wetlands, and are not for sale.
Councillor, Nancy Alcock, expressed interest in further discussion about these rural lands in the future.
Martin advised, “Staff are looking for long-term viability of these systems.”
The District approved staff to submit these and more concerns in the joint report to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.