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Bill 73 – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) 

Q1. What is the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 (Bill 73)? 

The Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 makes changes to the Planning Act to give residents a greater, more meaningful say in how their communities grow, to make the planning and appeals process more predictable, to give municipalities more independence, and to make it easier to resolve disputes at the community level. The Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 also makes changes to the Development Charges Act, 1997.  

The changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act follow from an extensive review of the land use planning and appeal system, and a parallel review of the development charges system, which looked at whether the land use and development charges systems were responsive to the changing needs of Ontarians. The review commenced in fall 2013 and included province-wide consultations. The land use planning and appeal component of the review generated more than 1,000 submissions and included six regional workshops across Ontario, in addition to other consultation initiatives.

Q2. When did the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act receive Royal Assent and what changes are currently in force?

The Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 passed in the Ontario legislature and received Royal Assent on December 3, 2015.

All changes to the Development Charges Act, 1997, and the following four provisions relating to the Planning Act, came into force through Royal Assent:

  • subsection 1(2) of the Planning Act was amended to restrict the ability of ministries other than the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to be added as a party to an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) appeal.
  • subsection 3(10) of the Planning Act was amended to extend the review cycle of the Provincial Policy Statement from 5 to 10 years.
  • subsections 4(1) and 4(2) of the Planning Act were amended to remove the references to “referral”, as the Minister does not have powers for site plan that could be delegated.
  • section 22.1 was added to the Planning Act to provide certainty that when new policies or laws come into effect, applications for official plan amendments are subject to the previous policies or laws only if the required supporting material (i.e. complete application) has been submitted prior to the transition date.

The remainder of the changes to the Planning Act will come into force on a day to be named by proclamation - July 1, 2016. 

Q3. When will the regulations under the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act come into force?

In order to implement land use changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015, there are a number of new or amended regulations which are needed under the Planning Act.

The government posted all proposed regulations on the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) Registry for public comment on February 29, 2016 for a 45-day period (EBR postings closed April 14, 2016). These regulations take effect July 1, 2016.  

Q4. Does the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act make changes to the Ontario Municipal Board?  

The Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 deals with changes to the Planning Act and the Development Charges Act, 1997; changes to the operations or procedures of the Ontario Municipal Board would not be made through these Acts. The government has committed to reviewing the scope and effectiveness of the Board as part of a separate initiative and that review is anticipated to commence in Spring 2016. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs  will work with the Ministry of the Attorney General and key stakeholders to recommend possible reforms that would improve the Board’s role within the broader land use planning system.

While changes would not be made to the operations or procedures of the Ontario Municipal Board through the Planning Act, changes have been made to what planning matters can be appealed to the Board. The Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 includes several reforms relating to land use planning appeals to the OMB, which include:

  • removing the ability to appeal specific provincially-approved matters (e.g. MOECC-approved source water protection boundaries)
  • removing the ability to appeal second unit residential policies at the time of an official plan update
  • requiring more detailed reasons for appeals in order to better scope appeals and provide the OMB and parties with more transparency with regards to what will be raised during Board hearings 
  • removing the ability to appeal an entire new official plan
  • providing the ability to limit an open-ended appeal window for non-decisions of an official plan/official plan amendment through an optional new notice that would create a time limit for these appeals 
  • limiting appeals of a lower-tier official plan, unless it conforms with an upper-tier plan
  • providing authority to obtain more time to resolve disputes prior to certain appeals (90-day “time-out”)

Q5. How do the changes made to the Planning Act increase public participation in the planning process?

Examples of changes in the Act that will increase citizen engagement and provide more transparency in planning decisions include:

  • requiring municipalities and approval authorities to explain the effect of public input on planning decisions
  • requiring municipalities to include public consultation policies in their official plans
  • requiring upper- and single-tier municipalities in Southern Ontario to create Planning Advisory Committees with at least one citizen representative to advise councils on planning matters

In order to implement land use changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015, there are a number of new or amended regulations which are needed under the Planning Act – these include changes to modernize existing notification requirements.  The government posted the proposed regulations on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry for public comment on February 29, 2016 for a 45-day period. These regulations take effect July 1, 2016.  

Q6. Why do changes made to the Planning Act require municipalities to demonstrate consideration of public input in planning decisions?

The Planning Act has traditionally required public consultation in the planning process but it did not previously require municipalities and approval authorities to explain how that input had an effect on their decisions.  The changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 require municipalities and approval authorities to explain the effect of public input on their planning decisions.

Complementary changes made through the Act ensure that the Ontario Municipal Board has regard to public input at the municipal level in adjudicating all types of appeals.  The changes made will help enhance transparency in the decision-making process and help ensure greater consistency across all municipalities.  

Q7. What are Planning Advisory Committees (PAC’s), and what changes have been made relating to PACs? 

PACs are advisory committees in the planning process and have been authorized under the Planning Act since 1983.  PACs are distinct from committees of council, which are made up of councillors, and which provide recommendations to local councils on land use matters.  PACs play an advisory role in the process and provide an avenue for public perspectives to be included when giving advice to Councils on planning matters.  As advisory committees, PAC recommendations are not binding and local councils continue to maintain their approval role.

The changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 require all PACs to include at least one representative from the public.   All upper- and single-tier municipalities in southern Ontario (except the Township of Pelee) are also required to establish a PAC; northern municipalities may choose to establish PACs, but they are not required to do so.  The changes are intended to facilitate greater collaboration and exchange of ideas between council and public and to help ensure that land use advice provided to councils includes citizen perspectives.

Municipalities continue to have flexibility to determine how PACs would be most effective within their communities.  Councils determine which planning matters PACs can review or provide input on.  

As PACs have been authorized under the Planning Act for many years, PACs and similar types of advisory committees currently exist in some municipalities and provide advice to councils on matters such as heritage, environment, agriculture, etc. Municipalities can assess whether these existing advisory committees can meet the meet new requirement for a PAC.   

Q8. The changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act will require municipalities to review their official plans every 10 years, instead of every five years.  Why has this change been made?  Does this mean that all official plan reviews will now be on a 10-year review cycle?

The changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 help enhance stability and certainty in the planning system by providing that when a municipality prepares a new comprehensive official plan, the required cycle for updating that official plan will be 10 years rather than 5 years.

Through the province-wide consultation undertaken on the land use system, the government heard that the 5-year timeframe for official plan reviews is too short in some cases. Official plan reviews require significant municipal and community resources, and in many cases, appeals to new official plans take the process beyond the 5-year window.   The new 10-year update cycle for new official plans allows municipalities to use resources more efficiently.

A 10-year update cycle will only apply when an existing official plan is repealed and replaced with a whole “new” official plan.  In situations where an official plan is not being replaced in its entirety and is only being updated, the 5-year update cycle will continue to apply.

In order to benefit from the new 10-year update cycle, a municipality may choose to repeal its old official plan and replace it with a new, but similar official plan that is up-to-date, addresses local matters and is aligned with all current provincial policies and requirements. 

Municipalities continue to have the ability to amend their official plan, or prepare a new official plan, at any time prior to the end of the 10-year period. 

Q9. The Smart Growth for Our Communities Act establishes a 2-year “time-out” for amendments to new official plans and new comprehensive zoning by-laws. Why has this change been made and when does it apply?

The changes made through the Act provide for a 2-year “time-out” for new official plans and zoning by-laws.  This means that after a new official plan or zoning by-law is put in place, privately-initiated applications for amendments will not be permitted within 2 years of the first day any part of the official plan takes effect or zoning by-law was passed, unless council provides otherwise by resolution.

These changes help provide greater stability and certainty for official plans and zoning by-laws, which can take years of both municipal and community resources to put in place.  The changes reduce pressure on municipalities to amend these documents more frequently through the application process and allow more time to implement the documents.   

The changes still provide municipalities with the flexibility to make changes that they feel are necessary to both their official plans and zoning by-laws.  Additionally, a municipality could pass a resolution to allow privately-initiated applications during the 2-year “time-out.”  Such a resolution could be in respect of a site-specific application, a class of applications, or applications generally.  These amendments are subject to all the normal Planning Act requirements for public meetings, notice and appeal rights. 

The “time-out” only applies when a municipality fully repeals an existing official plan and/or zoning by-law and replaces it with a new plan or a new by-law(s).  The “time-out” does not apply when a municipality develops an official plan amendment as part of its official plan update or a zoning amendment as part of its zoning update.  

Q10. The Smart Growth for Our Communities Act establishes a 2-year “time-out” for minor variance applications. Why has this been established, and when does it apply?

The changes made through the Act provide that minor variance applications will not be permitted for two years following a privately-initiated site-specific rezoning on a property, unless the application is deemed appropriate by council (through a municipal resolution). The changes are intended to eliminate circumvention of the zoning process in situations where an original zoning decision is revisited through a simplified minor variance process.  

Council could at its discretion exempt minor variance applications from the 2-year “time-out” by resolution. The exemption may apply to a site-specific application, class of minor variances, or all minor variances.

Q11. What other changes have been made to minor variances?   

The changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 empower municipalities to establish local criteria for minor variances that are reflective of the local community context.  Local criteria for minor variances would be established through a municipal by-law that would be subject to a public review and appeal process, similar to the processing of a municipal zoning by-law.  Municipalities have the authority to establish local criteria once the changes to the Planning Act are proclaimed (July 1, 2016).

The changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 also introduce a regulation-making authority for the Minister of Municipal Affairs to establish criteria as to what constitutes a minor variance.  The ability for municipalities to establish local criteria for minor variances can be exercised without a provincial regulation being issued.

Q12. An optional “time-out” period has been established for the approval of an official plan/official plan amendment process. What is the purpose of this?

The Planning Act sets out timelines for decisions to be made on planning initiatives, including a 180-day timeline for approving official plans and official plan amendments.  The changes made through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 allow for a “time-out” any time prior to expiry of the 180-day timeline for official plans / official plan amendments.  This provides additional time for negotiation, including matters dealing with citizen concerns, prior to a potential appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.  

The “time-out” will be initiated once either the approval authority or the initiator (municipality or applicant) gives written notice to the other before the expiry of the 180-day period under s. 17(40).  Once this notice is given, the timeframe is extended in accordance with that notice.

Either the applicant or the approval authority could initiate the “time-out”, and it could be terminated at either party’s discretion so that the “time-out” would only continue to apply as long as both parties were agreeable to it. Ninety days is the maximum length for the “time-out” (it can be less), and only one “time-out” is permitted.  

It is up to municipalities and approval authorities as to whether and how it would notify other interested parties of the use of this tool.

Q13. What changes have been made to the alternative parkland dedication rate under the Planning Act through the Smart Growth for Our Communities Act? 

The Smart Growth for Our Communities Act, 2015 changes the alternative parkland dedication rate under the Planning Act for cash-in-lieu payments. The new maximum rate when municipalities take cash instead of land will be 1 hectare per 500 dwelling units rather than the current 1 hectare per 300 dwelling units. 

This change is intended to give an incentive to municipalities to require dedications of land, and could help realize parkland benefits faster in order to address community needs.  Through our consultation, the government heard concerns that the provision of parkland has not kept pace with increased densities associated with intensification, and that when cash-in-lieu parkland dedications are secured, they do not always result in parkland, or there is a long delay. 

Q14. Why will municipalities be required to develop parks plans in certain situations? What is a parks plan? 

To encourage parkland and help protect greenspace, municipalities will need to prepare a parks plan when they decide to either incorporate alternative parkland policies into their official plans or update existing alternative parkland dedication polices.  

Parks plans can help position municipalities to strategically plan for parks over the longer-term, and provide the opportunity to examine the need for parkland in the municipality and assess existing parkland, park types and recreational facilities. They could also project future park needs based on population growth projections.  While parks plans will vary based on the size and particular needs of the municipality, at a minimum, they would generally include both existing and proposed park enhancements and financing strategies to achieve these goals.

As part of the development of parks plans, municipalities would engage the public as usual, and would be required to consult with school boards. This could provide opportunities for municipalities and school boards to identify and discuss future surplus school sites in the community and plan accordingly, within the context of existing processes for surplus school property disposition.