Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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Dull, but divisive for London

REPORT #1,136: Development charges and urban intensification are difficult subjects to understand and their explanations are likely to quiet the most boisterous of parties. Yet these tools of managing civic growth are about to become of critical importance in the way London evolves.

Monday, Jan. 4, 2016 – LondonOntario

Among the dullest subjects in the world, one deemed surely to quiet the most boisterous of parties, is development charges. It has a fun-killer companion, I’ve since learned – urban intensification.

Even people at City Hall concede these are difficult subjects to explain, and it’s even harder to get the public truly exercised about them in the abstract.

Despite that, intensification – better known by its NIMBY moniker in-fill development – is about to become a significant force in the future of London. Coupled with development charges these two dullards represent how city council expects to pay for the rapid transit expansion – hybrid or otherwise.

Development charges, in case you’ve forgotten previous dissertations on the subject in this space, are fees the city tacks onto the cost of new construction. When you buy a new house, for example, about $26,000 of the total cost is a development charge. 

This fee is used by the city to help fund expansion of services into new areas of growth. When a new subdivision opens ultimately it will require policing, fire protecting, public transit, a library branch, parks, maybe ultimately even a community centre. Funds paid into the development charges pot help cover those costs.

The rapid transit proposal currently favoured by council is a hybrid system. A portion – a route from Masonville to Western University and through the downtown to Fanshawe College – would be light rail. The remaining portion – from Oakridge through the downtown to White Oaks – would be fast buses.

Total cost: about $900 million. The city proposes to pay $125 million of that cost, and hopes to squeeze the rest from the provincial and federal governments. More about that sort of wishful thinking on another day.

The city’s share of $125 million would be raised, over the next 20 years, from development charges. But it’s the specific source of those development charges that makes all this interesting, and perhaps ultimately very controversial.

City planners believe rapid transit will encourage development along the two corridors. That development will come in the form of medium and high density residential and commercial development. 

Tonight city council will take the first step towards making this happen. On the agenda is a recommendation from council’s planning and environment committee to raise the target for intensification projects to 40 per cent of all development. All you need to know about that number is (1) that it is higher than today; (2) it will mean more development pressure along major city traffic-ways that are touched by rapid transit in any form; (3) some members of council would like it to be even higher.

Hello Richmond Street, Western Road, Dundas Street, Oxford Street and Wellington Road. 

Given the inability of previous councils to withstand the NIMBY anger of Old North, exactly how this will all play out is difficult to predict. However, council is also about to force itself into a corner by approving the London Plan as our new official plan – plan that would then essentially legislate higher density forms as the preferred development model for our future.

Without the hefty development charges that will be attached to higher density projects, the city will have trouble raising the $125 million it needs to fund its share of rapid transit. 

Notwithstanding that, city council is moving to begin constructing the rapid transit infrastructure anyway in the expectation of those charges, thus trapping future councils into the same policy.

So here’s my first prediction for 2016: These may still be the dullest of subjects about which most of us understand little, but development charges and urban intensification are going to be very hot topics around cocktail hour as the year unfolds. 

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Weekday mornings, 9 – 10 a.m., radio station CJBK 1290. Call to comment 519-643-1290. 


# Dull? Arcane and complex!Sandy Levin 2016-01-03 22:42
Development charges are key to much of the financing of growth in Ontario cities. Interestingly, the downtown development charges have been paid by tax payers for the last 20 yrs. It might also end up that to encourage intensification in Transit Villages, it will be tax money rather than growth paying the development charges. And just for clarity development charges only pay for capital, not for the operating costs that come with growth. For example, they help pay for new police cars, but not for new police officers. New library buildings, but not new librarians. The operating costs come from taxes.
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# retiredbill brock 2016-01-04 05:55
We have reached the 11th hour! The next 90 days decisions must be made. None of these decisions deal with reality, factual discussion on options, facts that city can't force developers to build along certain corridors if they don't see the market, city staff indicated it will not be by force but by encouragement. Fact being completely ignored is public transit doesn't come first but follows development; history confirms this and putting rail lines along former street cars corridors is to force people to go back to where they along time ago decided to leave. At the same time Council wants new development on fringes to make room for major transit which is absurd. Push for infill while 3 more major malls are in the works.
Who is providing factual pros and cons; not either staff or Councillors. Major infrastructural changes will make correction nearly impossible for LRT etc. which data confirms isn't needed for beyond 20 years. Official plan should be guide for next 5 years. Did you hear the Councillors talking about driverless cars and better to spend dollars fairly on all 28 communities. Still no honest discussion.
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# RE: Dull, but divisive for LondonGord Drimmie 2016-01-04 13:55
I like the "old London" better. I just don't see the sense in becoming mini-Toronto. If you want all that stuff, move east young man.
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# Gord, we agree!Cynic 2016-01-04 14:13
Show me a big city without big city problems. There ain't any. So what are we trying to achieve?
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# RE: Dull, but divisive for LondonElaine Rickert 2016-01-04 16:32
No more talk about being world class like when staff pitched the LRT plan. We don't need to be world class anything. We just need to be a modern, smart city that puts people first. We can do that. World class? Just a foolish dream.
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