Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has reviewed Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, released October 25th, that proposes changes to the Conservation Authorities Act.
CVC understands that steps are required to address housing needs in communities across the province. We support the province’s commitment to building more homes, faster. However, the proposed changes limit the way conservation authorities can work with their municipal partners to plan safe development while maintaining the benefits of nature in our communities.
The announcement included several significant proposed changes to conservation and planning legislation that raise a number of concerns.
1. The proposed changes prohibit a municipality’s choice to request that conservation authorities comment on conservation and environmental matters in the development review process, except for flooding and erosion.
Ontario’s conservation authorities have a valuable review and commenting role in the development process to ensure public safety and property protection. Working with our municipal partners, we use a variety of tools present in the Conservation Authorities Act and Planning Act to ensure that our communities are well planned, desirable places to live with resilient natural systems that will support the communities into the future.
Municipalities benefit from leveraging the expertise of their local conservation authority. CVC provides input on ecology, natural heritage, wetlands and biodiversity in the review of development proposals. It’s vital that conservation authorities retain these responsibilities, where requested by municipalities, to maintain a watershed-based approach where we make connections between flood and erosion control, wetlands and other green infrastructure or natural cover, for the benefit of the proposed communities and those downstream.
Conservation authorities offer timely, value-added services for municipalities as well as certainty and predictability through the development review and permitting processes, without lengthening the approvals process.
2. The proposed changes remove critical tests that are used in reviewing permit applications
The current legislation proposes to remove the “Pollution” and “Conservation of Land” tests, which are two of the five tests that are considered by conservation authorities in their review and decision making on permit applications. Natural systems are living systems, and their ability to perform their natural hazard mitigation role is dependent upon the systems remaining alive to perform their function. These tests allow conservation authorities to ensure that the natural systems, such as wetlands, are not adversely impacted by development and site alteration to an extent that they are not able to perform their natural hazard roles over the long-term.
3. The proposed changes empower the Minister to freeze conservation authority user fees.
Conservation authority plan review and permitting fees are based on the user pay principle to recover program and service costs. CVC’s fees do not exceed the cost of delivering the service and have been developed based upon the recommendations of external third-party professionals, and in consultation with the building industry. If the Minister were to freeze these permit and development fees, it would create additional financial pressures requiring conservation authorities to make up the difference through the municipal levy. This forces the cost of development from the developer to existing homeowners and the rest of the taxpayers. The proposed changes provide no mechanism to make up for the accumulating shortfall in the future.
It is notable that CVC’s plan review and regulation program user fees generally account for less than 0.2 per cent of the overall combined municipal and agency fees for larger residential development applications in four high growth municipalities in our jurisdiction. This represents approximately 0.01 per cent of the purchase price of a $1 million home (or $144).
4. The proposed changes would enable the Minister to exempt certain types of Planning Act applications from requiring a conservation authority permit.
While the intent of this proposed provision remains unclear, CVC is concerned that the proposed changes may undermine our ability to effectively deliver an important provincially mandated function in the planning and permitting of development. Conservation authority permits are a vital component, which support and complement an effective planning process without redundancy.
5. The proposed changes would make conservation lands available to support housing development.
Conservation authority lands are acquired to protect against flooding and erosion and provide residents access to local greenspaces. Protecting nature like forests and wetlands builds local resilience to climate change by capturing carbon and holding water. They also provide important ecosystem services such as cleaning the air we breathe and the water we drink. Based upon our existing practices, CVC does not retain lands that are surplus to this purpose.
Over the past two years, the multi-stakeholder Conservation Authority Working Group provided valuable guidance and solutions to streamline development. We would strongly encourage the Province to re-engage this group for further dialogue and input before finalizing this legislation to avoid unintended consequences of increasing delays and uncertainties in planning and permitting processes, weakening protections for public health and safety, and further burdening existing homeowners and taxpayers with the costs of development.
Unanimously endorsed by CVC’s Board of Directors on November 11, 2022.
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