Ottawa council approves development charge fee hikes

Ottawa city council gave the green light to higher development charges during Wednesday’s meeting, a move that will fund seven new full-time employees that the city says will help process the growing demand for applications more efficiently.

Hikes in development charges, which vary depending on the size and scope of the proposed project, will be implemented incrementally between 2019 and 2021. Some development fees are expected to increase dramatically: under the terms first proposed last spring, charges for a site plan control application for a 40-unit residential development will more than double from $18,478 to $39,052 when the full fee hike takes effect in 2021.

These increases are expected to yield $1.8 million in extra revenue, which will be used to boost the city’s staff count. The city intends to hire five engineers, a solicitor and co-op student with $800,000 in proceeds from the higher development charges, with the remaining $1 million put towards a replacement mapping platform and cost-of-living salary increases.

Development charges are fees levied on new residential, commercial and industrial projects that are intended to cover the costs of growth-related infrastructure such as new water and sewer pipes, roads and fire stations.

Ottawa’s development industry has previously expressed concerns about increases to the city’s development charges, calling it an “invisible tax” that drives up the price of new homes as well as the cost of leasing and buying commercial space.

City staff said in a report that Ottawa is seeing more development applications in recent years and is facing tighter timelines to process them, warranting the need for additional staff.

The city received 939 requests for zoning bylaw amendments in 2018 and, by mid-year, was on track to surpass 1,000 applications in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Ontario government passed legislation in June that cuts the amount of time municipalities have to consider development applications before they can be appealed to the province’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Official Plan amendments, for example, now have just 120 days to be considered compared with 210 days previously.

Elsewhere Wednesday, council approved changes to the maximum lot sizes for highrise towers. New language in the zoning bylaw limits clarify how small lots must be for buildings 10 storeys and higher, as well as minimum separation distances from surrounding structures.

Council also announced it has hired a new chief financial officer: Wendy Stephanson, who will step into the role on Dec. 12. Stephanson most recently served as Ottawa’s deputy city treasurer of revenue services. She will also replace city treasurer Marian Simulik upon her retirement in early 2020.