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Norfolk can’t impose affordable housing: municipal staff

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Norfolk councillors have been told they cannot make the approval of development applications conditional on developers setting aside a certain amount of land for affordable housing.

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Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman and Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin raised the subject of affordable housing in connection with a 32-unit subdivision proposed for Nichol Street in Waterford.

The land is zoned for single-family dwellings. Huffman told the developers – Mike and Jody Quattrociocchi – that it would be nice if the development made provision for first-time home-buyers.

“That’s a pretty important part for this council – making sure we’re starting to address the need for affordable housing,” Huffman said at the Sept. 8 meeting.

“It’s really important, especially as the councillor for this ward, that we have some different price points to offer first-time buyers.”

Martin agreed. She said the county must be on the lookout for opportunities to create ground-floor entry points for homebuyers of limited means.

“I’m never quite sure when it is we should have this conversation,” Martin said. “It seems it comes up in a public hearing. Or it comes up when there’s a recommendation in front of us. Or it comes up when we’re negotiating density, and it never gets ironed out for this council what’s available for accessible, affordable housing.

“It seems we never get an answer – that it’s never the right time.”

Brandon Sloan, Norfolk’s general manager of planning and development, said the planning and approval process is not designed to address the question of affordability. Sloan added that raising the subject during a public meeting under the Planning Act is “inappropriate.”

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“The key challenge is that, through the planning process, we can’t really deal with price points and directly with affordability,” Sloan said. “We can’t request that the development only sell at a certain amount or that rents are a certain amount. That is a challenge.”

Vittoria Coun. Chris Van Paassen said Sloan is correct. Van Paassen said it is incumbent on council to set policies in Norfolk’s official plan and zoning bylaw that encourage the development of affordable housing.

Van Paassen added council cannot engage developers in surprise sidebar negotiations once they have taken the measure of a property and designed a development to accommodate its zoning.

Van Paassen noted that Norfolk has made progress in the area of affordable housing by making it easier for property owners to build “tiny homes” and other accessory dwellings to their primary dwelling. That, Van Paassen said, is fair dealing when it comes to development applications and the provision of affordable housing.

“We’re making those tweaks,” Van Paassen said. “But we can’t just out and out say we’ll give you one thing if you do something for us. That would be against the rules.”

The Sept. 8 deliberation was received as information. Norfolk staff and the developer – which is listed as 1498745 Ontario Ltd. – will consider the feedback they have received and continue to negotiate the details of the development. A follow-up report – with recommendations – will come to council at a later date.

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