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New Ontario housing bill to eliminate parking requirements near transit

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The Ontario government announced a slew of “targeted” housing changes on Wednesday that would allow developers to provide fewer parking spaces for buildings near rapid transit while exempting public post-secondary institutions from planning laws.

Developers are currently required by law to provide a certain number of parking spaces per resident but the government is seeking to eliminate those minimums for new builds near transit stations and highly trafficked transit areas such as subways, rail lines and rapid bus stations. This will allow builders to decide how much parking to create based on market needs.

The legislation will also reverse some earlier changes the Doug Ford government made in terms of development fees.

The legislation, titled the “Cutting Red Tape to Build More Homes Act,” was tabled Wednesday afternoon by Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra.

In a statement, Calandra said the measures “recognize the struggles” of municipal partners and aims to remove obstacles to building housing.

“We’re not going to micromanage and dictate a one size-fits-all approach across the province,” the minister said.

“Municipalities know their communities best – they know where it makes sense to build homes. That’s why we’re supporting them by giving them the funding and tools they need to build much-needed infrastructure and more housing, of all types.”

The new legislation will prioritize ready-to-go housing projects and streamline approvals for student housing and laneway residential units.

Part of the plan includes exempting publicly-assisted colleges from the Planning Act, allowing them to avoid application fees and build higher density student residences.

The exemptions would apply to both university or college campuses as well as any other land the post-secondary institution owns.

The changes come a day after Calandra confirmed the government was looking at including student housing within its tally of new homes as it works towards building 1.5 million units.

There will also be changes to the planning act that would eliminate “practical barriers” to the creation of laneway, basement and garden suites. These decisions will be made by a new regulation-making authority and could include changing the number of bedrooms allowed per lot as well as the maximum lot coverage.

The government is seeking to eliminate parking minimums for new builds near transit stations and highly trafficked transit areas such as subways, rail lines and rapid bus stations. This will allow builders to decide how much parking to create based on market needs.

Officials argue this could reduce construction costs to the tune of about $2,000 to $100,000 per parking space that isn’t needed.

The legislation also backtracks on some changes the government has made to development fees. The province implemented a phased-in discount and exemption for certain housing such as duplexes, as well as affordable housing and inclusionary zoning units. It was also reduced significantly for family-sixed units.

Development charges are collected by cities to help pay for the cost of municipal services or impacted infrastructure such as roads and transit. Following the previous legislation, municipalities warned that it would cost them millions in housing infrastructure.

Officials say that the new changes will result in further revenue for municipalities.

“We have listened to our municipal partners and we are moving forward in a way that is much more cooperative to address the financial needs they addressed,” Calandra told reporters in the afternoon, adding that this fulfills his province to make municipalities ”whole.”

Development charges will remain frozen for those building affordable housing however the timeline for obtaining a building permit and benefiting from the freeze has been reduced from two years to eight months.

‘Use it or lose it’

The Ford government promised to implement a ‘use it or lose it’ policy last year in an effort to double down on approved projects and get shovels in the ground. It is included in Wednesday’s legislation.

The policy would expand the scope of “lapsing provisions,” which would allow development housing approvals to expire if certain conditions are not met.

For pre-1995 subdivision approvals, a three-year timeframe for conditions to be met will be established.

The province will require a lapsing condition on new draft subdivision and condominium approvals, and will establish a universal guideline for municipalities the ability to apply those conditions on new and previous site plan applications.

Officials say that seven municipalities reported 70,000 units remained inactive for at least two years.

Municipalities will be given the ability to reallocate infrastructure such as water and wastewater servicing to other projects that have the need.

Officials noted that municipalities already have the authority to establish provisions, and that this policy is just streamlining the process.

Building codes and red tape

Building codes will be adjusted to allow for 18-story mass timber buildings and the government will consult on allowing single-existing staircases in small residential buildings. The government says this could help promote greater density.

Third-party appeals for official plans and zoning by-laws will be restricted to “key participants” in an effort to reduce costs and delays.

These participants include applicants, public bodies, First Nations and utility providers.

The government anticipates that by eliminating some of these third-party appeals it can speed up approvals for applications by up to 18 months.

Ontario will also create a regulation-making authority to exempt standardized housing designs from certain sections of the Planning Act. These “standardized housing designs” have yet to be made and work in conjunction with the federal government’s promised “catalogue” that will support higher-density construction.

“We have a good opportunity here to work with them and help streamline,” Calandra said.

The province has said the designs will likely encompass a variety of types of homes, including modular housing.

There are multiple other proposals within the bill to help streamline processes, such as a new “go-forward framework” for minister’s zoning orders.

The new process will require the basic details to be open for consultation through the environmental registry.

‘Random grab-bag’

Opposition parties argued the bill introduces a “random grab-bag of small-ball measures” that could have been put in place years ago.

“This bill will not get the job done,” Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie said in a statement.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles called the bill “weak” and said it lacked a bold vision.

“The government continues to ignore top recommendations of its own Housing Affordability Task Force, including legalizing fourplexes and four-storey multiplexes in all neighbourhoods as of right,” Stiles said, noting that it also includes yet another policy reversal from the Ford government.

“What’s also missing: real rent control and government investment in non-market housing, without which the housing affordability crisis will continue."

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