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Ford government to reverse controversial development charge change: documents

Documents obtained by The Trillium give a first glimpse at what's planned for Wednesday's housing bill — including giving universities planning power on their own campuses
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, confers with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Paul Calandra, at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023

The Ford government is set to make consequential changes to planning policy and reverse past moves that drew fierce opposition from municipalities and the development industry, according to government documents obtained by The Trillium

Legislation to be tabled by Housing Minister Paul Calandra on Wednesday would create exemptions for publicly funded universities under the Planning Act, effectively giving universities greater control over development on campuses, according to the documents showing what's planned for the bill.

Vancouver treats the University of British Columbia similarly — as though it’s a city within a city. UBC is responsible for its own infrastructure, does its own planning and development, and isn’t subject to municipal control. 

It could be a way to expedite housing on campus, but also give schools a new revenue stream as they struggle with stagnant provincial funding and declining international student enrollment. 

Another major change is eliminating the development charge phase-in period introduced in Bill 23, the Ford government’s major housing bill from 2022. 

That bill cut the fees municipalities levy on development over a five-year period, which caused an uproar from cities across the province. Municipalities rely on those fees to fund infrastructure projects. The fees also dramatically increase the cost of building homes. 

Under Bill 23, municipalities had to discount their development charges by 20 per cent in 2022 if they passed a new development charge by-law that year or in subsequent years. The discount would decrease by five per cent each year for five years until the full rate could be charged. It did not affect every municipality because some didn’t pass new development charge by-laws from 2022 onwards. 

The province is also planning on limiting third-party appeals of official plans, official plan amendments, zoning by-laws, and zoning bylaw amendments, which Premier Doug Ford’s government initially tried doing in Bill 23 but backed down during the committee process after fierce opposition. 

Limiting appeals could expedite housing approvals and help dramatically reduce the Ontario Land Tribunal’s massive backlog. 

The Ford government-appointed housing affordability task force recommended limiting third-party appeals, but only for projects with at least 30 per cent affordable housing units that are guaranteed for 40 years. 

The bill will also include the government’s long-teased use it or lose it policy, which will give municipalities the power to revoke and reallocate servicing of an already-approved development if the project hasn’t made enough progress.

The province will also move forward with consultations to allow four-storey buildings to have a single staircase exit, which could make it easier and cheaper to build missing middle housing, and to remove minimum parking requirements for housing built in protected major transit station areas, which are special high-density areas around key transit stops. 

Calandra’s office has promised to table the bill on Wednesday afternoon. Many of the changes included will be subject to public consultation periods, meaning the eventual policies could ultimately differ from what the government initially proposes, according to government documents. 

Editor's note: This story was edited after publication to clarify the province will consult on the single-staircase changes

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