Last year, the Province of Ontario introduced the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015, known as Bill 73, which brings amendments to the Planning Act and Development Charges Act, 1997 that are currently in place. Bill 73 aims to increase the transparency of the planning process, while providing greater flexibility to municipalities to work within the planning framework. It also aims to make the development charges system and the planning and appeals process more predictable, accountable, and streamlined, with encouragement for greater public input.

The Bill received royal assent in December of last year, with changes to the Development Charges Act having come into effect on January 1, 2016. The amendments to the Planning Act have yet to apply, with Bill 73 currently open for comments and concerns from the general public and stakeholders for a 45-day period, which began on February 29 and continues until April 14, 2016. Information on how to submit your comments can be found here.

Below, we have highlighted some noteworthy updates to the current planning legislation that will have an impact on the processes determining what gets built where in our province. This summarized list is not exhaustive, and the public is encouraged to refer to the full text of Bill 73, which can be found here.

Toronto, Bill 73, Ontario, Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, Planning ActView of the Toronto skyline, image courtesy of Forum contributor robmci.

Changes to the Planning Act:

Imposing a two-year moratorium on amendments: This applies to any Official Plan passed by the municipality; any comprehensive zoning by-law amendment that repeals and replaces all zoning by-laws in effect in a municipality; and any minor variances (owner-initiated site-specific zoning by-law amendments), unless approved by City Council. During the two-year period following the day it comes into effect, no amendments to applications would be permitted.

Extending the requirement for reviews of Official Plans and Provincial Policy Statements: Current legislation requires official plans and provincial policy statements to be reviewed every five years. Bill 73 would see this extended to ten years after the day a new plan comes into effect, followed by a review every five years thereafter.

Limiting appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB): Several amendments impose additional regulations governing appeals to the OMB, most notably the ban on 'global appeals' of official plans, which restricts appellants to targeting specific sections of the plan, rather than the entire document itself. Other laws include banning appeals to planning legislation within specific areas of provincial concern, such as greenbelts or the Oak Ridges Moraine; setting a time limit on appeals to a non-decision; prohibiting upper-tier authorities from approving lower-tier plans if they are not in line with the upper-tier plans in place; and requiring an explanation of issues where an appeal claims that a decision is inconsistent with a provincial policy statement, provincial plan, or upper-tier official plan.

Creating transparency and accountability in the development approvals process: With the new legislation, City Councils and approval authorities will be required to outline the effect that written and oral submissions had on their respective decisions. In terms of money, any payments received by the city through Section 37 must be made to a 'special account', where financial reports will be made readily available to council and on a yearly basis to the public. As well, municipalities will be required to have an official parks plan in place before asking for parkland dedication or cash-in-lieu.

Encouraging alternatives for resolving disputes: The new legislation allows municipalities to use alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation, for a certain period of time before the case goes before the OMB.

Inclusion of urban design as a matter of provincial interest: Adding to the list of items of provincial interest, Bill 73 inserts a statement promoting built form that is "well-designed, encourages a sense of place, and provides for public spaces that are of high quality, safe, accessible, attractive and vibrant".

Changes to the Development Charges Act:

Increasing capital cost recovery for transit from development charges: Transit will be added to the list of services that do not require a 10% reduction for development charges, thereby increasing the amount of transit-related capital costs recovered.

Creating transparency and accountability in the development charges system: Requirements for background studies of development charges will be expanded, and the treasurer's financial statement will be required to include additional information on the use of the funds.

Some concerns have been voiced over the new amendments, such as warnings that these provisions will place a greater financial strain on new home-owners in a real estate market that is quickly becoming unaffordable. Other issues pointed out include the vagueness of the definition of the term 'new official plan' used throughout the document, and concerns that the two-year moratorium on amendments to minor variances would do more harm than good.

Public input is encouraged on these amendments before the deadline of April 14. Information on how to submit your comments can be found here on the province's Environmental Registry. Want to share your thoughts on the proposed legislation? You can join in on the conversation in our associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided at the bottom of this page.

NOTE: This article has been edited to clarify that the two-year moratorium refers to amendments to development applications, not development applications themselves, as was initially stated.