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Newmarket prepares for development turmoil in wake of Bill 23

Mayor says revenue impact of new provincial housing legislation represents 'most critical fiscal moment' he has seen
2021-01-14 housing development Newmarket ASH-1
File photo

Newmarket council is bracing itself for development turmoil and a significant financial hit as provincial changes come into effect in the coming months.

Council held a special meeting Jan. 23 to review what a series of changes to provincial legislation will mean for it. Staff said the changes stand to create revenue loss and the need for a five to 15 per cent tax increase over time, as well as impacting smaller capital projects, forcing a speedy designation process for hundreds of heritage properties and reducing public consultation.

“This is, in my 17 years (on council), the most critical fiscal moment related to another level of government that we’ve seen,” Mayor John Taylor said. “Whether it’s meaningful policy intervention or not, it is a significant impact on the fiscal sustainability and viability of municipalities.” 

Bill 23 was introduced in November and makes changes to speed up development, including reducing municipal development charges on many projects if they are at 80 per cent of the market rate or lower. Bill 109, introduced last spring, will further require municipalities to decide on developments within specific periods or start refunding fees. 

Director of finance and treasurer Mike Mayes has estimated what the loss of revenues will mean for the municipal tax picture but said it will not be applied in 2023 to find out more about any provincial move to compensate municipalities.

Mayes said that the changes should not impact major capital projects. But there will have to be decisions regarding smaller capital projects like playgrounds over time.

“Do we stop building some of the playgrounds and some of the growth-related enhancements?” Taylor said. “Or do we increase taxes?

Changes are also coming to the Ontario Heritage Act. Properties on the heritage register with no notice to designate over two years must be removed from the register and cannot be relisted for five years. That could open up more of these properties to development.

Director of planning Jason Unger said the town has approximately 350 such properties on the register not designated, which the town will have to sort through quickly.

But Taylor said they can still move to designate and protect properties they would have anyway.

“It’s just forcing clarity,” he said. 

With the town having less time to decide on future planning applications, Unger said that staff would be doing more in the consultation phases to ensure studies are in order.

But the speedier processing times will mean consultation opportunity is lost, Councillor Christina Bisanz said.

“We still want to be able to have options for our residents and hear from them and be able to shape changes,” Bisanz said. “There is going to be less opportunity to do that.” 

The meeting also recounted the many municipalities speaking out against the changes. But Taylor said they need to promote understanding that all the changes, and the forthcoming tax increases, are not necessarily going to create much more affordable housing.

He said it requires more numerical study, but said high housing prices and the affordable rate getting set at 80 per cent in the provincial legislation may mean homes being built are still out of reach for many. 

“We need to define what this is really achieving,” Taylor said.