Cities Decry Plans for Regional Development Charges

  • 09/16/16
  • |          Waterloo

WATERLOO REGION — Region of Waterloo politicians may be hard-pressed to find anyone who likes proposed updates to the regional development charge bylaw.

“There’s differences of opinion from the other municipalities for sure and that’s part of the public process,” said Coun. Sean Strickland. “We want to hear what the other municipalities have to say and weigh that all in the mix and make a decision in the best interests of the entire region.”

Township councils have been clear: they’re not interested in transit charges applying to rural development.

And now cities are making their voices heard, saying new transit and waste management charges shouldn’t apply to development in city cores right away.

“There’s been very little notice in terms of this whole thing coming forward and being implemented, not for us, but for the people that were planning development over the next few years while there’s an exemption,” Kitchener Coun. Scott Davey said. “It throws everything into a bit of disarray.”

The region is reviewing its development charge bylaw after changes to provincial rules were made at the end of 2015. Under the new rules, the region can now calculate the charges for future transit and use development charges for waste management — excluding landfills and incineration.

Development charges are fees developers pay for infrastructure such as roads and sewers. They’re paid once on new development.

Any exemptions municipalities grant must be paid for.

The region is considering applying the new charges related to transit and waste management to developments in cities. Existing exemptions for other development charges in the Kitchener and Cambridge cores would stay in place until 2019.

Davey said adding waste and transit charges could still be the difference between a project going ahead and not going ahead.

According to a presentation at a Region of Waterloo public meeting on the charges Tuesday, core projects in Kitchener and Cambridge are currently exempted from about $17,000 in fees per single detached unit.

The new transit and waste charges would be between about $3,600 and $4,000 per single dwelling unit in all three cities.

Strickland said developers building in the transit corridor are benefitting from the light rail project and should help pay for it.

“If we’re to put this in that means that new development would make an increased contribution to the funding of the LRT which is currently being funded through tax increases,” he said. “It’s development paying for development, not taxpayers paying for development, which is a fundamental principle.”

Some Waterloo councillors seem equally unimpressed by the proposed new fees.

That city’s council chose not to approve a core exemption program in 2014 but councillors are still worried about the additional fees for transit and waste.

It has been regional practice to only set up exemptions in city cores if the lower-tier municipality does so as well.

On Monday, Waterloo council passed a motion asking that development projects in the city that have received site plan approval be grandfathered in by the region under the existing fee system. Staff estimated there are more than a dozen projects that would apply to.

“This is not good news for us,” Coun. Melissa Durrell said about the proposed new charges Monday.

Cambridge chief administrative officer Gary Dyke said staff are still reviewing the implications of the proposed charges.

“We have a meeting set up with the region to discuss some concerns and then we’ll be taking a report to council after that,” he said.

Cities aren’t alone in being concerned about the development charge changes.

The rural mayors have been speaking out against discussions about implementing development charges for buses and light rail in the townships.

Right now, development charges for transit are only charged on projects in the cities.

Township councils have approved motions opposing the application of development charges for transit to development in the townships.

One of the concerns is that townships, some already struggling to attract development, will become less competitive if developers need to pay the fees there.

Strickland said the townships benefit from new assessment due to development spurred by light rail transit.

“They’re benefiting from the development but you could argue they’re not paying any costs,” he said.

Townships also say they were promised they wouldn’t have to pay for light rail transit.

Other regional politicians say that promise was related to property taxes, not development charges.

The cities disagree with the townships though.

In August, Kitchener council passed a motion calling on the region to apply some of the costs of transit to development charges in the townships, but not the full amount paid in cities.

Waterloo also passed a motion to express support for applying a share of transit development charges in the townships.

A decision on how the development charges will be applied is expected to be made by year’s end.

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