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New Ottawa Council must restore balance to city growth

There are eight new city councillors in place at Ottawa City Hall. That means, with 24 councillors in total, one in three councillors are in a position to bring new perspectives, ideas and energy to the decision-making table. Now is the time for Ottawa to adopt a balanced approach to how our city grows and develops.

Budget 2015: New homebuyers are paying their fair share

One of the first orders of business for City Council will be the coming city budget. Ottawa’s previous council made a commitment to limiting increases in property taxes. They honoured this promise and should be applauded for their efforts to have the City live within its means.

When governments do not raise taxes, they often look to fees as a way to generate revenues. Here’s a few facts for councillors to keep in mind when considering any increase to the building permit fees paid by homebuyers and homeowners.

This year, new homebuyers are facing an average increase of 30 per cent in the development charge levied on every new home built in Ottawa. Anyone buying a new townhome in Kanata, Orleans or Barrhaven will now pay $18,973 in development charges. If buying a single family home outside the Greenbelt, it means paying up to $37,304 in development charges.

When building permit fees are raised, these are passed on to the new homebuyer, putting home ownership out of reach for many young families and first-time buyers. Ask younger Ottawans and parents about the challenges facing Millennials. Career-track jobs are hard to find. Many Millennials are working in service industry jobs, struggling to pay off their $40,000+ student loans. Half of Millennials live with their parents well into adulthood. Now is not the time to increase the cost of new homes for first-time buyers.

Less politics in planning

In the City of Ottawa, a councillor’s approval for a new development is required before a building permit is issued in his or her ward. While the permitting process is managed by the Planning Department, the process is not complete until the ward councillor has approved the plans.

Changes to the zoning of land, the rules which govern what we can and cannot do with land in Ottawa, must be approved by the Planning Committee of City Council, which is made up of councillors. While the zoning amendment process is handled by the Planning Department, land and property owners need Planning Committee approval if they want to do something that that often is in complete conformance with City of Ottawa policy.

By bringing elected officials into the land use decision-making process, we have introduced politics into what was traditionally a planning and engineering process. Land use decisions can now be influenced by the people affected by these decisions. This is not a bad thing, but unfortunately, we find ourselves in a situation where the political considerations of a proposed plan or development often outweigh the planning considerations.

Building permit delays have a real cost

One of the practical results of the increasing politicization of planning is the increased time required for approvals. Delays in permitting and zoning changes are more common and longer than ever. Today, it takes two to five years to secure the approvals and permits for a plan of subdivision. Prior to the City of Ottawa amalgamation (2001) it was not uncommon for a plan of subdivision to be approved in six months.

While delays may seem like a minor bother and are often treated as such by decision-makers, they are, in fact, a major problem for homeowners, builders and developers. Delays are about time, and time costs money.

For homeowners and new homebuyers permitting delays are an endless source of frustration. Delays are also driving up the cost of their new homes.

For a small builder working on an urban infill project, a delay can place his or her entire business in jeopardy.

For a larger builder, delays cost millions of dollars. During delays, builders must carry the cost of land, they must pay salaries and wages to their employees and they must continue to operate their businesses. All of these resources sit idle while permits are delayed. Long delays will lead to job losses for the men and women who work in homebuilding.

Homebuilding is a major part of Ottawa’s economy

Lastly, when making decisions about homebuilding and land development, it’s important to remember that 25,000 people in the National Capital Region work in the homebuilding industry. While it may be good politics to keep taxes low by increasing development charges and building fees, these decisions have a direct impact on Ottawans working in the homebuilding industry and on our local economy. When the price of new homes goes up, sales drop. When sales drop, there is less work for people and less money being pumped into Ottawa’s economy.

Keys to a balanced approach

The time has come for Ottawa to adopt a balanced approach to growth and development in our neighbourhoods, our communities and in our City. Practically speaking this means: keeping building fees at current levels, reducing delays in building permits and approvals and, considering the contribution of homebuilding to our local economy at the planning decision-making
table.

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