Changes to the provincial Planning Act, which are set to go into effect on July 1, 2023, could end up costing the City of Kingston upwards of $555,000, according to a new report from City staff. On Tuesday, Jun. 20, 2023, Kingston City Council will debate a series of proposed changes to the City’s development review process, after provincial legislation dramatically altered the process by which municipalities review planning applications.
According to the report, the provincial government’s Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022, forces municipalities to refund fees associated with certain development applications if the applications are not reviewed within a set timeframe. City staff note that the government had initially set an implementation date of January 1, 2023, with any applications submitted on or after that date set to be subject to new criteria. However, in April of 2023, the government tabled Bill 97, the Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023, which delayed the implementation of fee refunds to July 1, 2023.
Through the new legislation, which received royal assent on June 8, 2023, applications submitted on or after July 1, 2023, will need to be reviewed within 90 days or the municipality will be forced to refund some or all of the development charge associated with the application. The Planning Act stipulates that municipalities are able to issue fees for the processing of planning applications, so long as the charges meet only the costs incurred by the municipality. Staff note that such charges are a way for the City to recover some of the costs associated with development.
Under the new laws, if a municipality fails to make a decision on an application within the set 90-day timeframe, it will be forced to refund 50 per cent of the development charges. The percentage of fees refunded will continue to increase the longer a review is held without a decision. Delays exceeding 60 days or more will be subject to a 75 per cent refund, while delays of 120 days or more will result in a full refund.
With the implementation date of Bill 109 fast approaching, City staff have prepared a revised development review process, which streamlines many of the existing procedures and could help mitigate significant financial losses as a result of fee refunds. In total, staff are recommending eight changes to the review process in an effort to reduce the amount of time it takes Planning Services to make a decision on 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,” states the report. “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 proposed changes is a plan to replace public meetings with “non-statutory community meetings,” with “simple staff reports” taking the place of existing public meeting reports. The community meetings would be held during the pre-application process. Staff are also proposing more detailed applications, such as the need for peer reviews, putting more onus on the individual applicant.
“The recommended changes are anticipated to mitigate fee refunds to the greatest extent possible; however, there are many variables in the development review process that are outside the control of staff and the City, and it remains likely that fee refunds will be required in certain instances,” notes the report.
Another proposed change to the development review process would see the City issue conditional site plan approvals, which would enable staff to approve zoning by-law amendments on a conditional basis, delaying their official implementation until certain conditions have been met.
“A conditional decision would include conditions in Council’s resolution that need to be satisfied before the implementing bylaw will be passed by Council,” the report states. 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.”
While the report indicates the City could be forced to refund approximately $555,000 in development charges — more than half of Planning Services’ expected $1.05 million revenue — staff have not yet provided an estimate of the refunds which may still be necessary under the new review model and timelines. The report does, however, note that staff continue to advocate to the province for further changes to the legislation, including a request for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to exempt the City of Kingston from the new requirements. However, at the time of writing, no municipalities in Ontario have been exempt from the legislation.
It should be noted that the staff report includes a second set of recommendations which would only apply if the City were to receive an exemption from the province. Should the City of Kingston be granted an exemption from the fee refund sections of the Planning Act, staff are still proposing to replace the initial public meetings with non-statutory community meetings, while staff explore options to move the meetings to the pre-application process, as opposed to the current zoning by-law amendment process. “This additional flexibility will enable staff to respond to feedback received at the Public Meeting… and ensure public participation occurs as early in the process as possible,” the report notes. The second set of recommendations also includes a direction for staff to investigate options to issue conditional zoning bylaw amendments.
Tuesday night’s Kingston City Council meeting is set for Tuesday, Jun. 20, 2023, at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall. The meeting will be open to the public and also available to stream live on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.