Highlands East planner raises issue with housing bill

By Sue Tiffin

Highlands East planner Chris Jones approached council on May 14 with concerns about draft Bill 108 called the More Homes More Choice Act specifically an amendment allowing a third dwelling in or on the same lot as a detached house semi-detached house or row house that he said was not necessarily appropriate for a rural area with shoreline properties.

“From a planner that works a lot in rural areas works a lot in shoreline areas and sort of sees first-hand not so much that secondary suites or additional habitable spaces is sort of the bogeyman it has really more to do with we are in a lot of cases dealing with remote locations on private roads on small lots” he said.

The provincial bill was released on May 2 with amendments affecting 13 acts including those related to development charges environmental assessment and planning in an attempt to promote and increase affordable housing in Ontario.

“Provincial initiatives are coming sort of fast and furious of course I sort of focus in on the ones that deal directly with the planning act” Jones said to council.

Currently in Highlands East secondary residential suites within either an existing dwelling or an accessory dwelling are authorized if they are in accordance with zoning regulations and Ontario Building Code provisions. Jones said he was bringing the attention of council to the amendment to the planning act that could require municipalities to authorize up to three dwelling units on one lot.

“From a general planning perspective the objective of the change is laudable as it will help to address issues of housing need and housing affordability as well as aging in place” he said in his report. “However the primary concern of the existing and proposed provisions in the context of a lake-based recreational area characterized by small lots is the ability of shoreline parcels to sustain the septic servicing demands created by additional dwelling units.”

Besides the increased pressure on septic systems Jones said additional dwellings on small lots could result in issues with parking areas and further vegetation removal to accommodate development at a time when the county is working to protect natural shoreline plants.

“In addition the majority of the recreational housing stock in Highlands East is located on private roads which creates limitations on year-round access as well as emergency access. These are limitations which are neither desirable or conducive to residential intensification.”

Additionally Jones said the amendment to the act could result in an increase in short-term accommodation on lakes.

“It is also a reality that shoreline and recreational areas have recently become a focus of short-term rental and accommodation businesses leading to a variety of compatibility issues which many municipalities find themselves involved in” he said. “Given this reality it stands to reason that the authority to create additional residential units on a shoreline parcel will not address a housing or housing affordability need but instead could motivate expansion and diversification in the recreational rental market.”

Jones said the proposed change could lead to “unintended consequences” in lake-based recreational communities and that the draft bill was moving along quite quickly. With a 30-day consultation provided he said “time is relatively short.”

“Now’s the time to just speak up on it we do have 30 days to say something and just remind the new government that we are a rural municipality” said Jones. “Most of our housing is in the lake areas and those lake areas aren’t necessarily conducive to three units per lot.”

Council agreed to oppose the draft bill prepared by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing noting the municipality supports the efforts to address issues of housing need and affordability but due to being “comprised of over 70 in-land lakes with an extensive recreational housing stock and seasonal population” characterized by shoreline areas of small lots on private roads does not find it to be “an appropriate or responsible measure to address housing need or affordability” in Ontario. The deadline for consultation on the draft bill was June 1.