Kingston City Council approves development review changes

Kingston City Council approved a new development review process during a meeting on Tuesday, Jun. 20, 2023. Screen captured image.

Kingston City Council has voted to adopt a number of changes to the City’s development review process, in response to provincial legislation which significantly limits the amount of time municipalities can review applications for development. According to a staff report distributed in advance of the Tuesday, Jun. 20, 2023, City Council meeting, the City could have been forced to refund up to $555,000 in development charges if changes to the review process were not adopted that would allow staff to meet new provincially mandated deadlines. 

Due to changes made to the provincial Planning Act through the government’s Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022, the City of Kingston will have just 90 days to review development applications submitted on or before July 1, 2023. Should reviews exceed the allotted timeframe, the City will be forced to refund a portion of the development charges associated with the application; the longer a review is delayed, the greater the refund on behalf of the municipality. According to the staff report, the City uses these charges to recover some of the costs associated with development. 

On Tuesday night, councillors were presented with eight reforms to the City’s development review process, which should reduce the amount of time it takes for staff to review applications. “[S]taff have undertaken a review of the current development review process and have identified a number of concurrent changes that can be made to help streamline the review of development applications while maintaining the ability for the public to meaningfully participate and comment on proposed applications before recommendations are made for Council’s consideration,” noted the report from staff. “The recommended changes help compensate for the oversights of the provincial legislation and support applicants with continued opportunities to partner and collaborate with the City despite the unrealistic timelines imposed by the Planning Act.”

Among the changes recommended by staff was a plan to replace public meetings with “non-statutory community meetings,” which will be held during the pre-application process. Instead of fulsome public meeting reports, the community meetings will instead generate “simple staff reports.” Staff also proposed changes to the application itself, including the need for peer review, putting more onus on the individual applicant rather than on planning staff. 

The staff report also recommended the issuance of conditional site plan approvals, which will enable staff to approve zoning bylaw amendments on a conditional basis, delaying their official implementation until certain conditions have been met. By issuing conditional decisions, staff might also be able to delay certain fees for the applicant “until later in the process when there is more certainty,” the report noted. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors had the opportunity to question staff on the proposed changes. In response to a question regarding the impact non-statutory meetings could have on public engagement, Tim Park, Director of Planning Services, confirmed that the new meetings are being “front-ended” to the pre-application stage of the process. “What the proposal is doing…,” Park said, “is front-ending the public participation and community input at the beginning of the process, in the pre-application phase, before a formal application for a zoning amendment is submitted — which is when, under the Planning Act, the statutory meeting is required to be called.”

“In the community meeting, it will be the application that is being proposed by the applicant, but in the pre-application phase. No recommendations are being made; no fine details are being made. It’s to get community input for later on in the process, as well as to get input from the planning committee and the technical agencies, [information which] will be fed back to the applicant,” added Park. The director also noted that several “cycles” of pre-applications may be required before a formal zoning amendment or planning development application is submitted to the Planning Committee. 

When asked to explain the process required for an application to receive conditional site approval, James Bar, Manager of Development Approvals, said, “It would essentially front-end our review completely, where we have to comment on the application, put forward conditions that they would have to satisfy through review… [The applicant] receives their conditional approval, and afterwards it’s their leg-work to satisfy the [conditions].”

Bar added, “It’s essentially reversing how we would do site control: we would identify a list of conditions that would have to be met, [and] once they’re met and finalized, they could be entered into a site plan control agreement.”

Council ultimately voted 12-0 in favour of the recommended changes. While the staff report noted the City could have been forced to issue up to $555,000 in development fee refunds if the changes were not approved, it remains to be seen whether staff will be able to avoid future fee refunds under the new review process. 

Members of the public can view the full agenda from the meeting on the City of Kingston’s City Council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in full on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

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