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The Ontario government has unveiled a new housing bill that would eliminate requirements for parking spaces in developments near major public-transit stations and bring in promised “use-it-or-lose-it” rules meant to get developers sitting on approvals to start construction.

It would also backtrack on a policy introduced just two years ago that was meant to slow large increases to the fees municipalities charge developers for infrastructure – charges the development industry and the government had said were adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of housing units.

Scrapping parking-spot requirements near transit stations – a move already implemented in Toronto – would allow developers and market demand to determine how much parking is needed, instead of minimums set by city planners. The government says the move could lower construction costs for condominiums or apartments by $2,000 to $100,000 each.

Acting on a previous pledge to bring in a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy to discourage developers from sitting on approved housing projects, the new bill would require municipalities to expand their use of what are known as “lapsing” provisions, essentially giving approvals expiry dates.

But the bill does not include a central recommendation from the province’s 2022 blue-ribbon housing task force to require municipalities to allow fourplexes, an idea Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford has rejected even as the federal government has demanded the change as a condition for some infrastructure funding.

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Opposition politicians said the bill, introduced at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, shows the government has run out of ideas to address the housing crisis. NDP Opposition Leader Marit Stiles called it “weak tea, weak sauce.” Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie said it was a “random grab-bag of small-ball measures.”

The proposed changes are the latest in a series of annual legislative initiatives meant to get Ontario closer to its goal of 1.5 million new homes by 2031 – a goal that current housing-start projections suggest it will miss.

The Ford government has been forced to rescind some of its key housing policies after public outcries, including its decision to allow housing on parts of the province’s ecologically sensitive Greenbelt area – a move subject to an RCMP probe.

And Wednesday’s proposed legislation would add to that list of reversals, scrapping a provision that forced municipalities to use a five-year phase-in period for any increase to the fees they charge developers for new infrastructure.

Municipalities had complained this and other changes to the rules on development charges would cost them billions of dollars in lost revenue collected for the new roads, sewer and water pipes and community centres required to accommodate new development.

The proposed changes would mean municipalities could charge the full cost of newly increased development charges for market-housing projects up front. Ontario’s plans to reduce or eliminate development charges for affordable housing and what the government calls “attainable” housing projects on government-owned land are still set to go ahead this year.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra said the climbdown on the development charge phase-in, when considered with recent announcements of new funding for infrastructure, would address the concerns raised by local governments about their finances and fulfill his pledge to make them whole.

“We have listened to our municipal partners and we are moving forward in a way that I think is much more co-operative,” he told reporters in a government building near Queen’s Park.

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But municipal leaders say they will still be out-of-pocket. Colin Best, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, said the province’s other development-charge changes will leave municipalities short by $4-billion for infrastructure over the next 10 years.

He also said the new bill “makes significant steps towards restoring municipalities’ ability to fund the infrastructure required for growth.” Marianne Meed Ward, the mayor of Burlington and the head of Ontario’s Big City Mayors caucus, called for meetings to resolve the issue.

The new bill would also allow publicly funded universities in Ontario to be exempt from normal planning rules, as the province’s colleges are already, to get more student housing built more quickly. Mr. Calandra said the government would set out new rules for universities to follow in regulations.

The bill would also ban appeals of zoning amendments for development projects from third parties such as residents’ associations or environmental groups at the province’s land tribunal, something the government said would reduce delays. It would restore the right of developers to challenge municipal decisions not to expand their settlement boundaries, however.

Phil Pothen of the group Environmental Defence said these changes, when combined with new provisions in the rewritten Provincial Policy Statement – which governs land use in Ontario and was also released in draft form on Wednesday – will make it much easier for farmland to be earmarked for development. This will open the door to what Mr. Pothen called “supercharged sprawl.”

The government also unveiled new rules for what are known as MZOs, or minister’s zoning orders, unappealable directives it has used to circumvent normal planning procedures and fast-track development. It says proponents will have to show that an MZO is needed to meet a provincial policy objective and that public and Indigenous consultation has taken place. However, mayors of some cities could secure one without their council’s approval.

With a report from Oliver Moore

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