City of Kingston staff respond to Bill 97 and proposed new provincial planning statement

At a meeting on May 16, 2023, Kingston City Council approved a report from City staff, which offered extensive comments on how new provincial legislation will impact future land use and planning decisions by the City. Screen captured image.

Kingston City staff have spoken out about the provincial government’s new Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023, as well as a proposed new Provincial Planning Statement, both of which could significantly impact future land use and planning decisions by the City.

At a meeting of Kingston City Council on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, councillors were presented with a 24-page report from staff, outlining how the two pieces of legislation may impact the City moving forward. 

According to staff, Bill 97 was introduced in support of the province’s Housing Supply Action Plan and “focuses on reducing barriers to housing development by strengthening homebuyer protections, supporting tenants, and streamlining the rules around land-use planning.” The staff report noted a number of existing provincial acts which are set to be impacted by the new legislation, including the Building Code Act, the Development Charges Act, and, most notably, the Planning Act. 

In terms of the impact Bill 97 will have on the Planning Act, the legislation establishes a new “regulation-making authority” that can “prescribe specific circumstances where site plan control could be used for residential developments of 10 units or less.” Site plan control is a tool afforded to municipalities to manage community development. Bill 97 also gives the province’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the ability to force landowners to enter into “development agreements in relation to lands that have been referred to the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator,” noted the staff report. 

In response to the Bill’s changes to the planning act, City staff wrote in favour of the new municipal site plan control regulations. “The Province is proposing new regulations which would specifically permit the use of Site Plan Control for parcels of land: any part of which is located within 120 metres of shoreline; and any part of which is located within 300 metres of a railway line. Staff support these proposed changes.” According to the report, the changes come one year after the province’s Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022 amended the Planning Act to exclude developments of 10 units or fewer from being subject to municipal site plan control. 

As for the new powers afforded to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, staff have asked for clarification “regarding the role of the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator, including the geographic areas which one Facilitator would administer.” 

Bill 97 further amends the Planning Act by changing language associated with developments on urban lands. Initially, through Bill 23, the government removed wording from the act which automatically approved developments of three units on a lot in the “rural area,” with additional residential unit permissions focused on “parcels of urban residential land in municipally served residential areas.” Through Bill 97, the province is set to replace “parcel of urban residential land” with “parcel of land” throughout the Planning Act.

According to staff, the new changes fail to define what a “parcel of urban residential land” actually means. “These changes should be revised to specify ‘parcel of residential land,’ with necessary updates to the definition… and all references throughout the Planning Act,” noted the report. 

The staff report then went on to warn that the legislation could have additional consequences for the municipality. “The current proposed language in Bill 97 may have other implications such as the requirement for municipalities to allow three units on a lot as-of-right outside of residential zones, which is of concern, especially in employment areas and areas that are otherwise constrained or inappropriate for residential development.”

In addition to Bill 97, the government has also proposed a new Provincial Planning Statement, which would replace the existing Provincial Policy Statement, 2020 (PPS, 2020). The new statement includes the following five pillars: 

  1. Generate an appropriate housing supply
  2. Make land available for development
  3. Provide infrastructure to support development
  4. Balance housing with resources
  5. Implementation

In terms of the need to generate an “appropriate housing supply,” the new statement will “identify large/fast-growing municipalities, with specific directions to plan strategically for growth,” while requiring municipalities to provide a “range and mix of housing options with an expanded definition to include multi-unit types.” Staff noted the City of Kingston is included in the statement’s definition of a “large and fast-growing municipality,” which will require the City to “establish and meet minimum density targets for ‘strategic growth areas.’” 

According to staff, one of the more significant changes included in the proposed policy statement relates to the removal of a “comprehensive review” of the municipality’s Official Plan related to “settlement area boundary expansions.” The report noted, “There will no longer be a requirement for municipal comprehensive reviews for such expansions… The proposed Provincial Planning Statement would permit municipalities to identify a new settlement area or allow a settlement area boundary expansion at any time.”

As for whether staff support these changes, the report pointed to both positives and negatives: “For example, expansion of the urban boundary could open up additional opportunities for employment and housing. However, the changes could also result in requests for unplanned expansions that may have negative financial, environmental, or other implications.” 

Another major change associated with the new statement is the exclusion of institutional and commercial uses for land designated as “employment areas.” The new statement defines land designated in official plans for “business and economic uses” as “areas of employment,” even if the land includes certain parcels “whose use is excluded from being a business or economic use,” so long as certain conditions are met. 

According to the report, the changes are meant to “preserve” large areas of land for specific employment use, “such as heavy industrial, manufacturing and large-scale warehousing.” However, staff expressed concern that the new statement may lead to a reduction of employment lands in the city. “One of the unintended impacts of narrowing the type[s] of uses permitted in employment areas could be landowners requesting that lands be removed from employment areas to permit other uses.” 

As for how the new Provincial Planning Statement will be implemented, the province will require municipalities to conduct “early engagement with Indigenous communities.” City staff have sought clarification “on what constitutes ‘early’ engagement.” 

During Tuesday night’s meeting, members of City Council had the opportunity to ask staff questions about the report. Kingscourt-Rideau District representative Brandon Tozzo asked about the current and future mandates of the Provincial Land and Development Facilitator, and how that role differs from the work done by the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT). “It’s just sort of open-ended… From the report I couldn’t quite tell [what the mandate would be],” said Tozzo.

“That is actually one of the areas that we’ve asked for further clarification on: the role, as well as the geographic distribution of how that works,” replied Tim Park, the City of Kingston’s Director of Planning Services.

Tozzo then asked whether the province will be able to unilaterally change the municipality’s urban boundaries, to which Park responded, “What [the legislation] is allowing the municipalities to do is a review of their urban boundaries. Normally, that is done through the official plan review, but it is [now] allowing municipalities to do that outside of the official plan review.”

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle added, “One thing… currently being considered as well is the ability for property owner[s] to request a boundary adjustment. So that’s something that [is] new.” 

Ultimately, councillors voted unanimously to approve the report. Comments from staff will now be directed to representatives within the provincial government, including the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. As of this writing, Bill 97 is currently before the province’s Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Cultural Policy, as part of its second reading in the legislature. Meanwhile, the new Provincial Planning Statement remains in the proposal stage, with public consultation open until June 5, 2023.

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