By the time you read this piece, Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, may well already have been passed into law – less than a month after being introduced in the Legislature on October 25, 2022. Such is the unseemly haste of a government anxious to please its developer friends!
It’s an omnibus bill that amends 10 statutes that, if passed, will dramatically change land use planning in Ontario, even if it likely will not produce more homes, or homes built faster, and certainly not housing that is more affordable.
Let’s consider how the legislation would affect Leaside, in just three (of the 10) areas:
Infrastructure. If growth will not pay for growth, existing taxpayers will have to!
Roads, transit, sewers, fire stations, and libraries in new developments are funded through development charges and community benefits charges – the familiar “Section 37.” These charges are paid by developers on all new homes and businesses built in the community. The bill adds more restrictions on how much the City can charge developers for infrastructure required to support new growth. And Section 37 will be replaced by a new fixed rate community benefits charge based on property value. City staff estimated that this new scheme would raise 40% less than the Section 37 charge. Existing Section 37 agreements in Leaside include $4.6M in the case of 939 Eglinton Ave. East – the high-rise development under construction at Brentcliffe and Eglinton, and $1.25M at 126-232 and 134 Laird Drive – the mid-rise development on either side of Stickney. The new scheme reduces costs to developers, but leaves the City no option other than raising property taxes for all, to pay for the required infrastructure to support the growth.
Cultural heritage protection dismantled
Bill 23 proposes major amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) that, if passed, will destroy the municipal system of cultural heritage protection in Ontario, based as it is on “listing” and “designation.” The heritage register represents a “watch list” of buildings that have heritage value, which are protected from demolition for 60 days, whereas designation provides legal protection for a property.
Under Bill 23, all listed properties on the municipal heritage registry (that are not officially designated) will no longer have listed status after two years, unless they are designated within that period. Right now, municipalities have 60 days to prevent the demolition of buildings with potential heritage value. Under the new provincial rules, there will be only 30 days to protect the building, which is too short for municipal council action – and some buildings may even be exempt from heritage designation the moment a development application is submitted. This is turning back the page on nearly 50 years of cultural heritage protection in Ontario.
Let’s consider the risk to cultural heritage in Leaside resulting from the OHA amendments. Reviewing the listed properties (i.e., not those designated) in Leaside that were either listed by the Borough of East York (1975-1997) – four properties (including two original Lea family homes) – or the City of Toronto (1998 to present) – 33 properties including 22 Research Rd., a World War II industrial property, and main street commercial properties on the east side of Bayview Avenue. These properties would be automatically delisted by Bill 23, unless designated within two years.
This creates a real risk of irretrievable loss of cultural heritage due to demolition, not to mention the wasted energy by generations of municipal councils (East York, Toronto), staff, and volunteers.
Removal of appeal rights from citizens
Thirdly, Bill 23 prohibits any third party (i.e., citizen/resident group) appeals of development applications to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), thus making the OLT exclusively a developer forum. This prohibition will also apply to the Toronto Local Appeal Board (TLAB) appeals of severances and minor variances, making it impossible to appeal what’s happening with a rebuild next door.
The legislation does many regressive things, but this is surely the most egregious. No question, I can say as a not so frequent traveller to the OLT and its predecessors (the OMB and LPAT), one does not “enjoy” attending, but it is sometimes required to defend and maintain our community values. Appeals by the Leaside Residents Association (full disclosure, I am co-president) generally lead to better results for the community, and are often settled through mediation, rather than following an expensive hearing process. I think every citizen and residents’ group should be up in arms about this attack on our fundamental democratic rights. It is unfair and makes a mockery of Ontario’s legacy of participatory land use planning.
I started with … “by the time you read this.” Maybe you think – surely this cannot be happening. Unfortunately, it is and without the input of our newly elected City Council, which was sworn in on November 15th. The timing chosen by the government prevents the receipt of sound advice that I am confident Toronto City Council would have been pleased to provide.