Strong mayor powers being thrust on Chatham-Kent by the province has the local home building industry hopeful it can resolve an outstanding issue over development fees.
It was recently announced that despite the municipality twice saying it wasn’t interested in the powers, they were getting them anyway from the province, along with an anticipated $300,000 a year for three years to help with new home development.
Strong mayor powers were implemented to address Ontario’s housing supply crisis that has prompted the province to set an ambitious target of building 1.5 million homes across Ontario by 2031.
The powers let mayors pass housing-related bylaws with the support of only one-third of councillors, override council approval of zoning and other bylaws impeding construction of new homes, prepare and table municipal budget and hire and fire department heads.
The Chatham-Kent Home Builders Association, which opposes municipal development fees it says were implemented without proper consultation in early August 2022, wanted Chatham-Kent to accept strong mayor powers.
Local developer Dan O’Neill, with the O’Neill Group, said he’s hopeful if the municipality receives provincial funding, the development charge can be repealed.
If that happened, “it would go a long way to reignite home construction, which is what we all want. If we want growth, we need homes built,” he added.
Chatham-Kent’s general manager of community development Bruce McAllister, said, “We’re certainly not in a position to repeal the development charge bylaw based on this funding (through strong mayor powers).”
He said the municipality anticipates it will receive $350,000 annually over three years, and still hasn’t received all the details about how the funding can be used.
“We’re not talking a lot of dollars here to build infrastructure,” McAllister said.
O’Neill said housing starts have dropped significantly since the development charge bylaw passed, adding $17,300 to the cost of a single-family home.
“I can tell you first-hand it’s had a very negative impact on home construction in Chatham-Kent,” O’Neill said.
The O’Neill Group has put a major housing development on hold until the development fee issue is dealt with, he added.
Adding a $17,300 development charge is significant, especially when developers already pay 100 per cent of the infrastructure in a subdivision, including sanitary sewers, storm sewers, roads, streetlights, electrical and sidewalks, he said.
“I think there’s a misconception out there that the municipality pays for that infrastructure, which isn’t the case,” he said.
The homebuilders’ association has an application opposing the development charges going to Ontario Land Tribunal, which adjudicates matters such as land use planning, land valuation, land compensation and municipal finance.
Dan VanMoorsel, CKHBA’s executive officer, said homebuilders play a huge role in attracting people to Chatham. “Our builders are the first to discuss coming to Chatham-Kent with new people.”
At this point, O’Neill views the development charge as more like a tax, since such charges are supposed to be growth-related. He noted Chatham-Kent is still below its pre-amalgamation population of 110,000.
“We’re certainly seeing growth again and infrastructure is still definitely required and significantly more expensive than it was 20 years ago,” McAllister said.
Development charges are not new, but Chatham-Kent was one of the last Ontarion municipalities to adopt this type of development charge that covers the cost of growth, including paying for such things as more police and fire services or a new library.
McAllister said one of the biggest costs for the municipality is roads outside new subdivisions.
For example, Park Avenue West eventually will have to be upgraded with the housing development going on between Park Avenue West and Bloomfield Road.
McAllister said when looking at the capital costs Chatham-Kent is facing in the upcoming budget, “we need to find some funding source and this is the only mechanism the province has provided us to do it.”