Places to Grow – No Simple Solutions

My last article tried to illustrate how Places to Grow has been bogged down by inertia. A municipal governance system mired in planning and zoning decisions made a decade ago, a building industry entrenched in its own speculative land investments and methods of building and a provincial government forced into more studies and regulations to define the “urban” boundary down to the last metre in an effort to limit sprawl and finally change the way the massive construction industry operates.

I’ve reviewed some articles sponsored by the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) for their perspective on planning issues. It seems to me they’re too ready to point the finger at government.  The Association seems to paint an “either/or” picture of single detached versus high-rise:

“What isn’t as visible, however, is the lack of subdivisions being built and the dwindling availability of new low-rise houses… [this comes as a surprise to anyone who drives in rural areas. Simcoe County is setting up for a big increase in greenfield development. See my previous article.]

“There has also been plenty of resistance to the intensification policy in the GTA at the municipal level, delaying approvals of condo projects and pitting developers against community groups opposed to the introduction of denser forms of housing in their neighbourhoods.”  (Where Are All the Places to Grow?, Oct. 2012)

Developers are also chafing under requirements to pay ‘development charges’ to municipalities. (“In 2012, the industry and new-home buyers in the GTA contributed an estimated $1 billion toward the construction of growth-related infrastructure such as sewers, roads and transit through development charges to municipalities”, according to BILD.) And then there are those pesky parkland requirements. (5% of land site or “up to” 1 hectare per 300 dwellings, or cash “in lieu of”). The problem is, when municipalities are offered cash instead of parkland ‘cash-in-lieu’ has the potential to be greater than the purchase value of the land”. (BILD doesn’t explain why 5% of land is sometimes ‘not available’.)

“We need to see more streamlining when it comes to the red tape and the layers of regulation,” Golini [former chairman of BILD] agrees, noting too that excessive development charges and parkland requirements create hindrances that contribute to higher home prices.” (Where Are All the Places to Grow?, Oct. 2012)

Based on a study commissioned by BILD that examined fees in 6 communities:

“government charges and fees amounted to an average of $116,200 on a new single-detached home, representing 22 per cent of a new home’s cost. For a new high-rise home, government fees averaged $64,000, or 20 per cent of the cost.”

“For every additional $10,000 fee for parkland dedication, for example, on that new-home buyer’s $500,000 mortgage, the buyer will pay out almost another $6,000 of interest.”  (Ontario new-home buyers hurt by fees, Nov 15, 2013)

So there you have it. BILD says all will be well if we clear the way for high-rise with higher base urban densities, lighten up on those development charges and reduce the cash requirement in lieu of parkland. Just shift the cost to municipalities and all residents.
(GTA change and growth must be planned for, Dec 30, 2013)

OR maybe it’s time to think outside the box – literally! My next article discusses how we can achieve better, more sustainable housing through innovation that exists now and is commercially available:

  • Compact housing
  • Energy efficient – up to 2/3 less energy consumption per dwelling
  • Lower construction cost – up to 30% less than conventional
  • Optional net-zero energy design
  • And maybe more green space too?

Previously: Places to Grow – What’s Wrong?