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REGULATORY RANT: Queen’s Park 14-point development approvals action plan is a good start
December 12th, 2017 12:54 pm     A+ | a-

Michael de Lint / RESCON

In November, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs released the “Development Approval Roundtable Action Plan” intended to “bring more housing to the market sooner.”

Establishment of the roundtable was initially announced in April’s “Ontario Fair Housing Plan.”

The roundtable’s Action Plan was based on input from deputy ministers representing key approval ministries, senior GTHA planning officials, and senior representatives from BILD, OHBA, OREA and TREB.

RESCON president Richard Lyall was invited to the roundtable as was project chair and BILD president and CEO Bryan Tuckey.


RESCON president Richard Lyall


Andy Manahan of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) and I also participated in the meetings.

Secretary of Cabinet Steve Orsini, who chaired the roundtable with skill and humour, was ably supported by Municipal Affairs deputy and vice-chair Laurie LeBlanc, along with her staff.

“The action plan makes many significant recommendations to streamline and modernize Ontario’s development approvals process,” Lyall says. “But the devil is in the details and in the implementation. We now have a rare opportunity to really modernize the regulatory process in Ontario – let’s hope that the province will take full advantage of this opportunity. RESCON will continue providing input to province as it proceeds to implement the action plan.”

“A big problem requires a big solution” Tuckey says. “This is the time for robust measures that will speed up and modernize our development approval process – we have a good start, but let’s hope the province can deliver.”



BILD president and CEO Bryan Tuckey

 

SOME KEY ROUNDTABLE STREAMLINING RECOMMENDATIONS

The 14-point action plan includes a range of worthwhile recommendations including: better aligning infrastructure and land use-planning; supporting forward-looking zoning; and creating a task force to determine how best to advance electronic permitting (e-approvals) in Ontario.

Other action plan recommendations include: better integration between provincial agency and municipal planning approvals related to, for example, flood plains, heritage landscapes and municipal class environmental assessments (EAs). In the U.K. and many other jurisdictions, municipal infrastructure EAs (e.g., new or widened roads) are integrated into the municipal planning process, saving time and money.

Other ideas under consideration for provincial agency reviews and approvals include: simultaneous agency reviews; more robust timeframes or service standards for reviews; public transparency regarding provincial planning decisions and compliance with service standards; provincial guidance documents on matters such as Indigenous EA consultations and cultural heritage landscapes; and further clarifying and streamlining procedures for low-risk projects.

In addition, the action plan calls for the collection of better quality land and housing supply data.

ZONING DEFICIT

As we know, Toronto has a big zoning deficit relative to approved official plans.

The roundtable report calls for “engaging with municipalities to support the implementation of up-to-date zoning” and promoting a Community Planning Permit System (CPPS) that combines zoning, site plan control and minor variances.

As we know, much of the zoning along Toronto’s transit supported arterial roads lags far behind the approved official plan. Ontario’s Planning Act requires zoning to be aligned with the Official Plan within three years, but this is not happening. A recent RESCON / U of T study found that many Toronto high-rise projects – compliant with the Official Plan – still require re-zoning that now takes on average more than three years, according to study co-author Paul De Berardis.

What is needed are strong provincial measures that will compel municipalities to meet their Planning Act obligations – including withholding provincial transit investments until after local municipal zoning or a CPPS is updated to align with approved Official Plans and the Provincial Growth Plan.


      

IMPLICIT PROVINCIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF A SERIOUS PROBLEM

There is implicit acknowledgement of a serious problem in so far as the Fair Housing Plan calls for the creation of a Housing Delivery Group to reduce barriers to the approval and construction of specific affordable housing projects. That is, to cut through the red tape that is slowing down new supply.

The need for such a group and a similar facilitation team to get high-profile investments through the approval process, are eloquent proof that Ontario has a very serious problem with red tape.

PROVINCIAL E-PERMITTING TASK FORCE

An important part of the package of roundtable measures is the establishment of task force on e-permitting, as outlined in recommendation #13:

“The province will establish a Task Force, with appropriate representation from stakeholders and experts, to undertake an assessment and examine the feasibility of developing an e-permitting and tracking system for municipal and provincial land use and development approvals, including the identification of potential municipal pilot opportunities. The work of the Task Force will build on existing work done by provincial ministries and municipalities to move towards e-permitting systems, and link with the federal government and its support for Smart Cities Initiatives.”

          

The province is providing further support to expanded e-permitting through the “Cutting Red Tape Act, 2017,” which received Royal Assent on Nov. 14, and requires provincial ministries to provide businesses with the option to submit applications online. A significant limitation of many current municipal e-permitting systems has been the difficulty in linking these municipal systems with various provincial agencies involved in the development approval process.

It is expected that the province’s e-permitting Task Force will be established as early as this winter.

Before that happens, considerable work can be done in advance to support expanded e-permitting.

RESCON STEERING GROUP TO PROVIDE INPUT TO E-PERMITTING TASK FORCE, ROUNDTABLE

Following up on the July 5 RESCON / Ryerson report on streamlining the building and development approvals process, RESCON has established a steering group chaired by BILD president and CEO Bryan Tuckey.

The steering group will direct the preparation of a best practices guideline report to be completed in May 2018. This report will include recommendations on streamlining routine development and building approvals; expanded e-permitting; and enhancing the role of professionals in regulatory compliance.

In addition, the steering group will provide input to the province and the e-permitting task force, on matters related to streamlining the development approvals process and e-permitting.  

An important starting point in moving toward an expanded, state-of-the-art e-permitting system in Ontario is know what functionalities industry wants from such an e-permitting system. This helps to inform the further development of a common digital platform for provincial agencies and enhanced e-permitting by municipalities. Expanded/enhanced e-permitting would be achieved if necessary, in a few steps or stages.

Based on discussions with industry and e-permitting experts, a preliminary outline of key functionalities, to be refined by the steering group, includes:

  1. Common front end among multiple municipalities: Structured around Ontario’s building permit form, standardized in 2006 and covering municipal, provincial applicable agencies, including a common checklist, and more alignment of basic information provided to the key agencies.
  2. Pre-consultation: The system should support pre-consultation so that developers can assess project feasibility prior to formal application (similar to the Evolta system’s functionality).
  3. Common platform: Provincial, municipal “applicable law” agencies to be on a common platform, requiring increased alignment of information and document content/format for more seamless online communication and info transfer.
  4. Concurrent distribution: Municipalities should be able to confirm applicable law compliance with several agencies concurrently if agencies are on a common electronic platform.
  5. Applicant tracking: Applicants would be able to track the status of their application and know which department or agency was reviewing it.
  6. Online digitized GIS based maps: While some already do so, all key agencies should provide detailed GIS-based maps online to facilitate pre-consultation and speed up approvals.
  7. BIM (Building Information Modelling) enabled system: While many designers already use BIM to reduce errors and improve coordination; 3D BIM should be should be used by municipal, provincial planning agencies to reduce errors (e.g., site plan control).
  8. Person to person contact enhanced: Builders still want to talk to regulatory agency staff experts to get clarification, etc. More efficiency and compliance can free up staff time for more support.

 

These desired end-state e-permitting functionalities will be refined over time. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

TORONTO’S END-TO-END REVIEW

Several municipalities are already reviewing their development approval processes. Among them, the City of Toronto, which has hired a chief transformation officer who is undertaking an “end-to-end” review of the development approvals process, with recommendations to be completed by April 2018. Other Ontario municipalities, including Mississauga, Markham, Kitchener-Waterloo and Clarington, have also been engaged in major reviews of their development approvals process.

RESCON and the steering group expect to provide input to and learn from the City of Toronto and other municipal streamlining efforts as opportunities arise.

A RARE OPPORTUNITY

With concurrent federal, municipal, provincial and industry-led efforts underway to streamline the development and building approval processes, we now have a unique and rare opportunity to create a modernized, world-class development and building approval process here in Ontario.

This is the time to address big problems with equally big solutions.

 

Michael de Lint is RESCON’s director of building regulatory reform and technical standards. Email him at delint@rescon.com.

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