In 2013, the Town created a park dedication bylaw permitted under section 42 of the Planning Act, which requires developers and builders to either set aside land or pay cash-in-lieu for parks (this is known as . The maximum amount permitted in the Act is up to either 5% of the land value, or 1 hectare for every 300 units. The Town opted for the latter in their bylaw, and added a provision for a lesser amount: 1 hectare for every 730 new residents.
The development industry sees these amounts as unreasonable, arguing that it makes high-rise project uneconomic. The Town was taken to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) by a condo developer based on this argument in 2015. The OMB sided with the developer and capped the park dedication rate at 25%. Richmond Hill appealed this decision in an Ontario court and won, with the Divisional Court finding that the OMB exceeded its mandate.
This is a significant victory in a local, regional, and provincial context.
|The planned vision for Richmond Hill Centre.|
Second, the regional context. It also found that the OMB's decision was made without citing any evidence for its cap. While there had been past decisions by Richmond Hill to cap park dedication rates at 25%, the court spelled out the problem with this: "the reasons [for the OMB decision] also do not address whether the Town’s past practice was the appropriate practice for the future." Basically, relying on a municipality's status quo and previous practice under different development pressures is a garbage rationale. Again, as stated by the court, there is "no dispute that development issues for the Town have changed significantly in the last twenty-five years."
This is very applicable to any municipality within the Greenbelt, and it applies to matters beyond parkland. The Greenbelt and other provincial policies aimed at intensification, coupled with significant population and economic growth, has significantly changed the development landscape in the GTA. With these intensified pressures, relying on past planning practices is absurd and inadequate, and municipalities need unfettered bold action to address the future challenges ahead of them.
|Richmond Hill Centre is one of a number of urban growth |
centres designated under the provincial growth plan.
For an example of what I'm talking about, take a look at downtown Toronto. There are significant parkland-deficient areas in the downtown, and while Toronto has been banking section 42 funds for some time, this approach has few appropriate areas to establish new parkland. Now an ambitious proposal has been put forward: the Rail Deck Park, a park established on top of a structure spanning the rail corridor west of Union Station.
|The proposed Rail Deck Park.|
If the Town of Richmond Hill (and other GTA municipalities) can avoid some of these problems and extra cost merely by exercising their planning authority now, and establishing land as they go, it can avoid the trials downtown Toronto is experiencing now. And that results in significant budgetary savings, along with the ultimate goal: well planned communities with the amenities that residents require.
How the OMB thinks it can fetter and mess all that up? I have no idea.