Canada: Sweeping Amendments Proposed To Provincial Planning Law

On March 5, 2015, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin tabled the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015. Following a long consultation process with stakeholders, the public, and municipalities that took place from October 2013 to January 2014, this Act proposes amendments to the Development Charges Act and the Planning Act.

While still only at the bill stage, the proposed changes to provincial planning law are numerous and significant, and could have a substantial impact on planning and development in the province.

Highlights of the proposed changes to the Planning Act include:

  • When dealing with appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board arising from a failure of an approval authority to make a decision, the Board would be required to "have regard to" the information and material that the municipal council or approval authority received in relation to the matter, which specifically includes written and oral submission from the public. Currently, this section of the Planning Act only requires the Board to "have regard to" supporting information in the context of a decision made by an approval authority.
  • Policy statements made by the Minister would be reviewed at 10-year intervals, rather than five.
  • Planning advisory committees would be mandatory for upper-tier and single-tier municipalities in southern Ontario (excepting Pelee Township) and would be required to have at least one member who is neither a councillor nor a municipal employee. Currently, these advisory committees are optional province-wide. It is also proposed that lower-tier municipalities and single-tier municipalities in a territorial district would be permitted to appoint a joint planning advisory committee accordingly.
  • Global appeals of new official plans would no longer be permitted. Appeals of part of an official plan would still be permitted, except for a part of an official plan that:
    • identifies an area within the boundary of a vulnerable area under the Clean Water Act, the Lake Simcoe watershed, the Greenbelt Area or Protected Countryside, or the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Area;
    • identifies forecasted population and employment growth as set out in a growth plan under the Places to Grow Act or that applies to the Greater Golden Horseshoe;
    • for lower-tier municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, identifies forecasted population and employment growth as allocated to lower-tier municipalities in an upper-tier municipality's official plan, provided that the upper-tier plan has Ministerial approval; and
    • identifies the boundary of a settlement area in a lower-tier municipality's official plan, as set out in an upper-tier municipality's official plan, provided that the upper-tier plan has Ministerial approval.
  • It is proposed that if an appellant to the OMB intends to argue that an appealed decision is inconsistent with a policy statement under section 3(1) of the Act, fails to conform with - or conflicts with - a provincial plan, or fails to conform with an upper-tier municipality's official plan, then this must be identified and explained in the notice of appeal, otherwise the OMB could dismiss all or part of the appeal without a hearing.
  • No applications for amendments would be permitted during the two-year period following the adoption of a new official plan or the global replacement of a municipal zoning by-law.
  • The 180-day period for requiring an approval authority to make a decision with respect to an official plan could be extended under certain circumstances.
  • Applications for minor variance during the two-year period following an owner-initiated site-specific rezoning would require council approval before proceeding.
  • Money collected under section 37 would be kept in a special account, about which the treasurer would be required to make annual financial statements. Municipalities would also be permitted to invest the funds in this special account in securities in which it is permitted to invest under provincial legislation.
  • Municipal review of official plans would be first required 10 years after the plan comes into force, and at five-year intervals thereafter.
  • Municipalities seeking to adopt official plan policies allowing alternative parkland requirements would be required to have a parks plan in place that examines the need for parkland in the municipality before adopting an alternative rate.
  • Cash-in-lieu for parkland required under alternative parkland requirements would have a revised limit of 1 hectare per 500 dwelling units (up from the current number of 300 dwelling units).
  • Committees of adjustment would be required to apply prescribed criteria in considering minor variance applications, as well as the matters currently set out in the Act. Committee decisions on minor variances would be required to include a brief explanation of the effect that written or oral submissions made to the committee had on the decision.
  • The Lieutenant Governor in Council would be permitted to pass regulations preventing applications for amendment to new development permit by-laws and related official plan provisions during an initial five-year period after coming into force.
  • The Minister would be permitted to make an order requiring a local municipality to adopt a development permit system for prescribed purposes, as well as authorizing upper-tier municipalities to pass by-laws imposing similar requirements on their lower-tier municipalities. The Minister would be authorized to make an order requiring an upper-tier municipality to pass such a by-law.

Highlights of the proposed changes to the Development Charges Act include:

  • The Minister would be given power to make regulations to require municipal councils to use development charge by-laws only with respect to prescribed services and areas or to use different development charge by-laws for different parts of the municipality. No draft regulations have been proposed at this point.
  • Transit services are proposed to be added to the services for which no reduction of capital costs is required in determining development charges.
  • It is proposed that estimates for certain "prescribed services" to be provided shall not exceed the planned level of service over the 10-year period immediately following the preparation of the required background study, rather than the estimate not exceeding the average level of service in the 10-year period preceding the preparation of the background study. These "prescribed services" are not yet described by regulation.
  • New restrictions have been proposed on the use of development charges by municipalities. The Minister would have the power to investigate whether a municipality has complied with the restrictions and be authorized to require the municipality to pay the costs of the investigation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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