Ontario proposes ‘most comprehensive’ revision of real estate planning framework in 20 years

New legislative proposals involve 30 different consultations between now and the new year

Ontario proposes ‘most comprehensive’ revision of real estate planning framework in 20 years
Katarzyna Sliwa, Phil Pothen

On Oct. 25, the Ontario government introduced Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act.

The province said the legislation will support its Housing Supply Action Plan, which aims to help build 1.5 million homes in Ontario in the next decade.

“This is the most comprehensive and largest exercise that I've seen in terms of revising the Ontario planning framework in the almost 20 years of my career,” says Katarzyna Sliwa, national real estate practice group co-leader at Dentons Canada. “There's a lot of change.”

“There's a big focus on relaxing the obstacles to housing and affordability for Ontarians,” she says. “And I view this as positive. There will be different interests that are looking at the changes from different perspectives, but I think, overall, we can agree that the housing affordability piece is important to everyone. I think it's a real push to get those shovels in the ground.”

The legislation proposes amending various acts and initiates consultation with municipalities and other stakeholders to speed up residential real estate development, which include:

  • Amending the Planning Act to allow areas zoned for one home in residential areas to each house three units (for example: house, basement suite, and laneway/garden home) “as a right” without requiring a municipal by-law amendment.
  • Amending the Planning Act to permit “as of right” zoning to “meet planned minimum density targets” near major transit stations.
  • Launching consultations on the Municipal Act and the City of Toronto Act “to enable greater standardization of these municipal by-laws.”
  • Amending the Planning Act, the Development Charges Act and the Conservation Authorities Act to freeze, reduce, and exempt certain fees for affordable and inclusionary zoning units, select attainable housing units, non-profit housing developments, and rental construction.
  • Amending the Planning Act to remove site plan control requirements for most projects with fewer than 10 residential units.
  • Amending the Ontario Land Tribunal Act to expedite proceedings, prioritize certain cases, clarify the Tribunal’s authority to dismiss appeals and order costs awards, and establish service standards which include timelines for completing specific stages of a case.
  • Creating a new “Attainable Housing Program.”
  • Doubling maximum fines from $25,000 to $50,000 under the New Home Construction Licensing Act for “unethical builders and vendors.”
  • Consulting with industry partners on land speculation.
  • Amending the Ontario Heritage Act to “strengthen the criteria for heritage designation” and to update guidelines.
  • Consulting on potential change to property tax assessments for affordable rental housing.
  • Consulting with municipalities to reduce property taxes on multi-residential apartment buildings.
  • Establishing a “provincial-municipal working group” to discuss a policy framework around vacant home taxes, which incentivise owners to rent out their properties.

“[The legislation is] intended to facilitate and streamline bringing housing online and creating affordability in the housing market,” says Sliwa.

The province has also proposed removing planning decisions from “upper-tier municipalities” such as Durham, Halton, Peel, and York regions, she says. “That would allow for those municipalities within those upper-tiers to have more direct influence and discretion over the decisions that are made on planning matters.”

The More Homes Built Faster Act is an omnibus bill compiling “a lot of largely unrelated pieces of legislation,” says Phil Pothen, a land use planning and environmental lawyer and Ontario Environment Program Manager at Environmental Defence. And while the province is emphasizing the portions of the legislation which relate to housing, and increasing density in existing neighbourhoods, these aspects are less impactful than the aspects of it which will add to sprawl, particularly in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

The removal of planning decisions from upper-tier municipalities will “turn the entire planning system and planning law in Ontario on its head,” and will lead to municipalities “unleashing scattered patchwork development” which is difficult to plan for and service with transit.

This will also be aided by changes to conservation authorities and the designation process for provincially significant wetlands, says Pothen. The province is proposing to “slash” conservation authorities’ mandate. Rather than being entitled to refuse development permission to projects interfering with the ecological function of wetlands, to protect endangered species, manage invasive species, and prevent pollution, the province wants them to focus solely on “flood and erosion control.” The problem is that much of what prevents flooding over the long term would fall under the category, not of flood and erosion control, but of ecological protection, he says.

“This means, more broadly, that because the government is attempting to exempt all development that is approved under the Planning Act from any need for conservation authority permits, the vast majority of development that attempts to bulldoze wetlands in Ontario is going to be exempted from conservation authority control.”

“This is a very dangerous phenomenon. In reality, what this means is that many wetlands that are currently off limits for development, it's open season on them for bulldozers.”

The province is assigning to municipalities various targets for numbers of new homes. But if municipalities are required to build hundreds of thousands of new residential units, and they do not “push very hard” on existing neighbourhoods to increase density, those towns and cities will “sprawl outwards,” says Pothen. His concern is that that “pushing very hard” is not part of the plan.

“This isn't the type of legislation that is going to generate large numbers of family homes within existing residential neighborhoods,” he says. “The government, itself, has projected that it will create only 50,000 homes province-wide. This is not going to do the job. That means that the remainder of those 1.5 million homes are going somewhere else and a lot of them will be going to sprawl.”

Sliwa says there are around 30 different consultations on various aspects of the legislation, which will occur between now and the end of the year. The province will consult on the proposed changes to conservation authorities, wetlands, the Heritage Act, the Ontario Land Tribunal, new home construction licensing, additional residential units, and many other topics.

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