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Affordable or not? Councillors question Panorama development

Council gives preliminary approval for Panorama North project to proceed with zoning change and draft plan of subdivision approval, but not without questions about affordability, private road plans and how school site would pan out
A new concept plan for the Panorama North development, planned for 295 Mountain Road in Collingwood.

A difference of opinion on the definition of affordable housing brought questions from councillors last week in reference to a new development planned for Collingwood’s west end.

Called the Panorama North development, the proponent, Ted North Ltd., came before council during its committee of the whole meeting on May 15 to ask councillors to give preliminary approval for a zoning change and draft plan of subdivision for the land at 295 Mountain Rd. The plan is for between 550 and 600 new homes – including detached units, townhouses and an apartment building – parkland, trails, and a potential elementary school to the area.

During discussion, Coun. Rob Ring asked whether there would be any affordable housing units set aside within the apartment building.

“Not to my knowledge. I would say they’re attainable,” said Shelley Wells of Plan Wells Associates on behalf of Ted North Ltd., also clarifying that the townhouses would be condominiums while the apartments would be rentals.

According to the proposed plan of subdivision, there are 126 single detached homes proposed for the site, three townhouse sections including 274 units, one 50-unit apartment building, an elementary school site, a park, a hydro substation and a trail. If approved, the plan is supposed to be built in phases.

The 20.13-hectare property is located north and west of the Mountain Road and Tenth Line intersection in a largely undeveloped and currently vacant section of land. Previous agricultural uses included an apple orchard on the eastern third of the property.

The plan last came before council in 2019, but since then, the developer has modified the proposal to eliminate the need for an Official Plan amendment.

Later in the meeting, Coun. Brandon Houston took issue with the use of the term “affordable housing” in the staff report.

“Given that there are 600 units proposed in this development, I am challenged to support something like this when it’s not contributing to affordable housing,” he said.

Senior planner Mark Bryan said that higher-density building, such as stacked townhouses or apartment buildings, are more likely to “achieve affordable housing.”

“It’s within that broader context that affordability is out there, but I understand we are in the process of supporting projects that have a more clearly defined consideration of affordability,” said Bryan. “The higher-density dwelling types are more affordable options.”

Under the provincial definition, affordable housing refers to housing for low-to-moderate-income households priced at or below the average market rent or selling price for comparable housing in a specific geographic area. Generally, this means housing costs would consume no less than 30 per cent of a household’s gross, pre-tax income. There is currently no provincial definition of attainable housing.

Houston asked whether the proponent would consider converting some of the housing into affordable housing.

Ring also raised concern about the use of the term “affordable.”

“I’ve heard what it really means, I’m just wondering if there’s a better way of describing it. When we talk about trying to bring more affordable housing to the municipality, I’m looking at mid- to low-income families being able to afford it, and I’m not seeing that here,” said Ring.

The town’s director of planning, building and economic development Summer Valentine said the issue of affordable housing is one that is very challenging for planning staff to navigate.

“You see the words ‘affordable housing’ woven into provincial policy statements. Unfortunately, the province has not provided our municipality and many other across Ontario with an effective tool to require affordable housing,” said Valentine.

Houston said he understood that the municipality cannot require affordable housing in a development.

“However, I’d like to put it out there, that we would appreciate it,” he said.

Coun. Christopher Baines asked about the land set aside in the development for a school, and how long the school boards would have to make a decision on whether they wanted the land.

“The option is up to the school board,” said Wells. “They have until we build phase three to exercise it, or not. If they don’t, that block would become multi-use residential.”

Mayor Yvonne Hamlin expressed concern about private roads being built into the community.

“I don’t find those are good types of roads for our community because they leave a lot of infrastructure burden on those who own homes,” said Hamlin. “We’re developing into a town with innumerable private roads which (have a need for) private garbage pick-up and private snow removal, and there aren’t even enough operators... to serve everybody.”

“How are we going to address this?” asked Hamlin.

Chief administrative officer Sonya Skinner said town staff are currently working on updating engineering standards that would apply town-wide and could address the issue, which is expected to come to council at a future date.

At the end of discussion, the committee voted 8-1 in favour of recommending approval of a zoning change and draft plan of subdivision for the Panorama North development, with Mayor Yvonne Hamlin opposed.

The matter will come back to council for a final vote during their next regular meeting.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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