Thunder Bay’s Planning Problems

Last night at the 2017 Pre-budget consultation I had the opportunity to meet and talk to a number of different members of the City of Thunder Bay’s administration broken up into their respective divisions. One of these individuals I talked to was the planning department head Mark Smith. I felt that the conversation between myself and Mr. Smith was productive and felt that there was a lot of ideas from outside of the community that we have but are not being effectively implemented. The best way to summarize the building regulations and planning in Thunder Bay was ‘Loose’. I am going to try and paraphrase this conversation as best as I can without putting words in Mr. Smith’s mouth.

One of the items I brought up was intensification corridors; which are used by many other cities to increase the density of specific areas in their town to create rich, multi-use areas. Thunder Bay has some plans around intensification corridors but they are not well implemented and they run into significant challenges when it comes to actually implementing them. Thunder Bay has an perception issue with density and the ideas of smaller homes and apartment buildings. These types of developments are associated with lower income and criminality. There is also significant push back when a developer tried to bring multi-unit housing into an established area. Personally, I think that it time we challenge these assumptions and start to implement intensification corridors specifically around the areas of transit as a means to push transit use and bring density to the city.

One area I was impressed with is that Thunder Bay doesn’t really have any requirements for parking, height and other items in the downtown cores. They are pushing for development so desperately in these areas that they are willing to accommodate almost anyone. As we see more development in these areas it will be important to develop guidelines that bring in mutli-use land development practices.

The next question was about population density targets and its implementation within Thunder Bay. In reality, Thunder Bay has a very low density which is incredibly detrimental to its growth and success as a city. Stats Canada shows it around 330 people per square kilometre which is mentioned in my comparison blog between us and Barrie. Thunder Bay does not have density targets (to the best of my memory) which I believe is a direction that needs to change especially when it comes to additional developments in the city. Our urban sprawl is the biggest cause of city service costs and the biggest driver of tax increases. Looking to the Ontario plan for population density in Southern and Central Ontario I think its high time that we look to developing our own plan for modern, smart urban growth.

Finally, we talked about the idea of a development tax in Thunder Bay and the possibility of it being a factor in the city. Mr. Smith talked about a number of different potential revenue generators associated with the costs of developing in Thunder Bay that could change. As of now “We want people to put nails into boards and we make it very easy to build which is a significant difference then communities like Barrie who struggle on where to put things”. Thunder Bay’s practices on building and its continued allowance of urban sprawl is killing the city and will be the cause of service collapse. Frank Pullia in his explanation of the costs of the city said it himself “The size of the City of Thunder Bay is the same as the City of Montreal but we do not have the population they do”. Its time that the developers who come to our community pay to build here and for the infrastructure they leave behind for the city to pick up. If the demand is there people will pay to have their dream home.

Changes:

  • Introduce Intensification corridors to Thunder Bay in order to increase the density of the community and its self-supporting tax base. Looking to transit routes as potential areas for growth to help support the additional people. Attached is Barrie’s Intensification plan which is helping to support one of the fastest growing communities in Ontario http://www.barrie.ca/Doing%20Business/PlanningandDevelopment/Policies-Strategies/Pages/Intensification.aspx
  • Introduce a density target for the city. Require new developments to facilitate these density targets in order to help facilitate the future repair and maintenance of city services. Minister Mauro from Thunder Bay – Atikokan is the minister in charge of the Ontario Places to Grow Plan that introduces these targets we can use his expertise to do it here. https://www.placestogrow.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=420&Itemid=12
  • Introduce a modern development tax: A tax associated on distance from anchor points (Downtown) where the further from that point the more the tax is. Downtown development could potentially be given a rebate of 5% in order to facilitate development. Whereas a home in Neebing or McIntrye could see a 25% tax in order to pay for the future maintenance and rehabilitation costs. While Thunder Bay would be on a much smaller scale this is a potential major source of income “Toronto made about $150-million from development charges in 2012. (National Post)” http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/toronto-to-consider-almost-doubling-development-charges-levied-on-construction-projects

 

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