City of Ottawa staff have analyzed the major housing bill that runs through Queen’s Park and warn ratepayers could foot the bill for amenities in future neighborhoods, local wetlands could be redesignated for housing and that new buildings may not match the character of a street.
When the Ford government filed its Build More Homes Faster Act, in the aftermath of the municipal elections, pledging to boost housing supply, planners could tell that a major upheaval was underway given the number of pieces of legislation being rewritten. They said they would work nights and weekends to take stock.
In a memo sent to city council on Monday, planners now detail many important ways the Ford government’s latest housing bill will take city building in a new direction, leaving municipalities with less local control and less money.
For example, City of Ottawa staff “strongly reject” the province’s plan to remove municipalities’ ability to regulate a building’s exterior, architecture, character and scale through this called site plan control.
This will prevent staff from determining if a project fits their street, neighborhood or the Ottawa skyline. The recently approved new energy efficient building standards aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be “compromised”.
“Bill 23 reduces the discussion of housing to a question of quantity and diminishes the essential role that municipalities play in quality,” wrote Don Herweyer, acting general manager of planning, real estate and of economic development.
City can waive $26 million a year
Another major theme in the analysis of Bill 23 staff is that the long-standing problem of trying to build infrastructure to accommodate new housing in the booming suburbs will be aggravated.
The Ford government intends to waive development charges to encourage triplex, affordable housing and buildings near transit stations. These one-time fees are collected by cities, not the province, and go to everything from roads and public transit to libraries and fire stations.
Staff roughly calculate that the province will require the City of Ottawa to give up $26 million per year.
The province will also require municipalities to allocate 60% of their park reserves at the start of each year, which worries Ottawa because it often saves money for larger projects over many years.
As soon as the bill passes, developers will have to provide the city with half the amount of parks they currently do. The province says it will “reduce the cost of building housing and create savings for new buyers and renters.”
Developers can even offer private public spaces or land with infrastructure underneath, depending on the provincial consultation website.
Staff counter that smaller parks will make neighborhoods less livable and leave fewer open spaces to absorb rainwater and curb flooding.
“The bill risks creating a significant imbalance with the rest of the city – where new housing is being developed without the services, amenities and infrastructure necessary for long-term success,” Herweyer wrote.
Either infrastructure will have to be delayed or the city will have to turn to existing ratepayers, writes Herweyer.
“As it currently reads, passage of Bill 23 will conclusively mean that growth will not pay for growth,” he wrote.
“A funding gap already exists for growth-related costs. The city cannot afford to subsidize development on the backs of its ratepayers.”
The bill seeps into many other areas.
The Ford government intends to allow wetland “units” to be remapped rather than being lumped together with larger wetland “complexes” — a move that City of Ottawa staff said “would expose most of Ottawa’s provincially significant wetlands to potential loss of status and would consider complex lands for the expansion of urban boundaries”.
Specifically, they fear Goulbourn Wetland near Stittsville could be considered for future housing.
Staff fear that years of work on a heritage building register will be undone.
At a fundamental level, the city disagrees with the “ambitious” population projections that the Ford government has used to justify all these changes and to give Ottawa a goal of building 151,000 new homes by decade.
That figure is double the 76,000 homes the city predicted it would need after a study just three years ago, and doesn’t match Ontario Ministry of Finance population projections, staff point out.