Council voted at a Feb. 7 special meeting to extend a 50 per cent reduction in development charges for new homes built in serviced areas until Sept. 30, 2019.
Councillors also opted to extend an exemption to development charges for park model trailers, also to Sept. 30 2019, when the next council has taken over and had time to digest the issues.
The Feb. 7 meeting was the final public meeting required before the new development charges bylaw can be approved. The bylaw will appear before council on March 1 and must be approved by March 3 when the existing bylaw expires or else the municipality will lose the ability to collect development charges.
A development charges background study prepared by Watson and Associates Economists Ltd. had recommended the 50 per cent reduction be phased out by Dec. 31, 2018, but councillor Dianne O’Brien put forward an amendment to extend the program. That amendment was approved in a recorded voted of 10–3 with councillors Janice Maynard, Roy Pennell, and Jim Dunlop voting in opposition.
O’Brien said although the cost of the reduction will ultimately be borne by county taxpayers, those same taxpayers will benefit through jobs with developers, increased spending in the municipality, and an overall bigger tax base.
Councillor Bill Roberts supported the motion, describing the county’s housing situation as being in “a little bit of a crisis management moment.”
“This is not the time to play Russian roulette with population and housing growth and economic growth,” he said. “We have an unsustainable economic model in the county, we have to be thinking about the long game.”
He said if council had chosen to accept the consultant’s recommendation there may have been some short term positives, but it could end up hurting the municipality in the long run.
Mayor Robert Quaiff also supported the extension. He said there are bound to be new councillors around the Shire Hall horseshoe when the reduction was set to end on Dec. 31. Extending the reduction would give them more time to fully assess the issue.
“They’re not going to have enough time to deal with a background study, a DC discount study, until they get enough meetings and then you have a little more data to show whether or not the building stats, the taxation stats, and everything else are going to have more effect,” he said. “Going to September gives that new council an opportunity to take a look at what this council has done toward development fees.”
Councillor Janice Maynard said she couldn’t support the extension. She said after hearing from developers, she got the general feeling that development charges aren’t the primary issue when it comes to boosting development.
“We’ve been tracking this now for five years, we have not seen that the reduction in development charges has actually been much of an incentive to growth — the rural areas are tracking right along with the urban areas,” she said.
She said she would also refute that discontinuing the discount would hamper development moving forward.
The new development charges background study and draft bylaw proposed that the current exemption for park model trailers be removed. The move would have seen the dwellings charged at the same rate as a bachelor/one-bedroom apartment rate. O’Brien put forward a motion to extend that exemption also to Sept. 30, 2019.
Those motions came after council heard from several developers and residents at the special meeting.
Among those who addressed council was Hilden Homes president Eric DenOuden. He said there are many challenges when it comes to building in the county.
“There aren’t enough serviced lands in Prince Edward County for us builders to build on,” he said. “We are paying way too much when there is a lot available.”
He said there is a lot of unserviced land available in the county, and many developers have invested big money in it, but have had trouble bringing the developments to fruition.
“There are so many challenges and obstacles,” he said. “I’m not blaming any one level of government, all three levels of government are to blame for this — including our province — so we have a chokehold on land that can be developed.”
He said in 2016 there were 105 new housing starts in the county, creating 228 on-site jobs worth $13 million in wages and representing $87 million in investment value.
“We are together, corporately, a huge industry and have a huge influence,” he said. “I would like to see all of us, municipal leaders, staff, along with builders and developers work much more closely together.”
DenOuden said all of those stakeholders have a common goal and together more can be achieved.