By Mike Williscraft
Despite calling a special meeting of council, Grimsby could not beat the provincial government to the Bill 23 punch this week.
In its first meeting since its inaugural session last Monday, Grimsby’s fledgling council got its new term off to an intense start dealing with the Province’s contentious Bill 23, which will release major chunks of Greenbelt land for development.
While Bill 23 was announced just over a month ago it was passed by Premier Doug Ford’s government on Monday.
Council received a detailed overview of the impacts of Bill 23 from Grimsby supervisor of planning Terri Donia Edwards and discussed the matter at length before unanimously approving a motion rejecting Bill 23.
“The Town of Grimsby does not endorse Bill 23 in its current state and requests that the Ontario Provincial Government withdraw and/or extend the comment period for feedback on potential legislative, regulatory, policy and other charges, to allow for full municipal participation,” said Mayor Jeff Jordan in one passage of the lengthy motion.
“I think everyone is in agreement we need to see MPP (Sam) Oosterhoff here,” he added not ing council and staff can bring concerns.
Donia Edwards outlined the two parcels the province has said it will remove from the Greenbelt to allow for residential development on those lands.
A key components of the proposal is having detailed plans to move on planning quickly for projects by the end of 2023 and be ready to move ahead with construction in 2025 latest.
If timing conditions not met, land will be returned to the Greenbelt.
“Some of those timing challenges present us with some policy challenges,” said Donia Edwards. “The first of which is the Niagara Official Plan. It was approved by the Province on Nov. 4 and in there it does not have any settlement boundary changes that would be reflected in those proposals. So, it is not in the approved document.”
That fact sets off other procedural issues.
“The current Planning Act indicates that no changes to an Official Plan are allowed to be
made for a two-year period,” said Donia Edwards, noting there are changes set out in Bill 23 which received Third Reading at Queen’s Park on Monday.
She noted Grimsby and Niagara Region completed an “expensive” Municipal Comprehensive Review to assess Grimsby’s number for projected growth under the Province’s growth plan – with 7,000 being the ultimate number reached.
Grimsby’s current available land would allow accommodation of that goal by the 2051 target date. Now, with the new lands being brought online for development, no new growth ceiling has been assessed.
“What we’re saying to the province is, if you want these things to happen and housing to be built, a simpler process would be required for council to even consider the lands for settlement boundary expansion and future development,” said Donia Edwards.
Bill 23 also has major issues around development charges (DCs), which is a fee put to developers to cover key aspects of infrastructure and services.
Donia Edwards told council the legislation says developers will pay for necessary infrastructure upfront but “water, sewer and transportation servicing is planned years in advance based on growth allocations.”
“There are some points in Bill 23 that indicate reductions in development charges which would also limit the ability of municipalities to pay for the needed infrastructure to support growth.”
She added more clarification is needed on that matter.
The problems and concerns laid out by council during discussion were many, but for Coun. Nick DiFlavio the number one matter was clear.
“This (Bill 23) doesn’t solve the problem they are trying to resolve…The problem is the affordability of housing, not the availability of housing,” said DiFlavio, suggesting major components of the development on these two parcels much be geared to those with lower incomes – the first 4-6 storeys of a new build – “That’s what solves the problem is when you build housing that people can afford.”
DiFlavio noted that the 30-day consultation window permitted by the Province was the equivalent of “we don’t want consultation”, given the timing overlapped the inauguration of new council terms.
For Delight Davoli, the matter of affordable housing is important, but Grimsby should not be looked at as a sole solution.
“My concern is it should not be our burden alone to bear for the entire region of Niagara,” said Davoli.
On the matter of the parcels not conforming to current Town and Region guidelines, assistant director of planning Walter Basic said an Official Plan review will be triggered.
“The Official Plan will have to conform to the regional Official Plan and it will have to conform to any provincial policies that are in place at the time.” said Basic.
“These are thoughtful changes that need to be made. Again, what are the implications on the infrastructure and the financial implications on the infrastructure. Not just can it be done, can we afford to have it done.”