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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Council hosts roundtable to discuss Development Services initiatives

- tiny home initiative, short term rental changes to be considered in near future -

by Sylene Argent

Members of Essex Council and administration met virtually on Monday for a roundtable discussion on the Department of Development Service, which oversees planning, building code compliance, and economic development for the Town of Essex.

  The meeting gave Council members an opportunity to discuss upcoming initiatives and ask members of Essex administration about progress made on various issues.

  Over the past several months, similar roundtable meetings have been held for the Department of Community Services and for road initiatives. Others are planned to discuss the Department of Corporate Services and the Office of the CAO.

  Throughout the course of the two-and-a-half hour conversation a number of topics were discussed, including internet and broadband accessibility, development incentives, affordable/obtainable housing, tiny homes, short term rentals, property standards, wayfinding signage, the Official Plan, and possibly needing more residential zoning.

Internet and Broadband Accessibility

Councillor Chris Vander Doelen began the discussion on broadband accessibility. He said a lot has changed since the last discussion on this file took place, with SWIFT adding fibre cable to a number of neighbourhoods and other companies expanding their accessibility. He said the area went from basically no hope in getting access to decent internet, where it was not previously available, to many options becoming available.

  He sees potential in extended project areas through SWIFT, if enough families and individuals in those areas sign up to use that service.

  Lori Chadwick, Director of Development Services, noted internet testing took place last fall, which assessed 3500 homes to date. As a result, multiple ISPs have shown interest.

  Economic Development Officer, Nelson Silveira, added competition is driving the market. He said the Town is doing its part to ensure ISPs are getting the information they need.   

Development Incentives

Mayor Larry Snively was unable to attend the meeting, but sent along a message that development initiatives are important to him and he does not want them to fall by the wayside, CAO Chris Nepszy relayed.

  Lori Chadwick, Director of Development Services, said the Town is currently offering great incentives. There is also great progress in place to attract and retain businesses. There are also efforts that encourage businesses to expand within the municipality.

  The Town, she noted, does have incentives in regards to Development Charges (DCs), which the capital costs associated with residential and non-residential growth within a municipality, , such as internal roads, sewers, watermains, roads, sidewalks, streetlights, etc. associated with a subdivision.

  Until August 28 of 2024, the Town has waived DC charges for commercial, institutional, and industrial development. In addition, DCs are waived for single family and semi-detached homes in the Harrow Settlement Area until the end of the year. The waiving of the DCs will continue at a reduction of 25 percent over the next few years, until the waiver ends.

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen spoke of DCs and said the incentives were needed as bait to attract opportunity, now there is development happening, and it should be gradually faded out as taxpayers should not carry the cost. The Town has to recover DCs by law.

  The Town, Chadwick added, also offers three Community Improvement Plans (CIP), one for Essex Centre, Harrow, and Colchester/County Road 50, which offer municipal grants for permits, adding patios, and updating facades for local businesses within the predetermined boundaries.

  The Harrow and Essex Centre CIPs are set to expire at the end of the year, with the funding to be transferred to their respective Streetscape initiatives. The Colchester/County Road 50 initiative will likely expire in 2028.

  Town staff, she said, continue to work with developers to attract projects.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman spoke about a formal conversation Council had about infill lots, previously where Council could have considered waiving DCs for these properties in settlement areas. He indicated that he would like to take another look at options. Chadwick will resend the former report on the matter to members of Council, so they can go over the material and consider potential possibilities, if they wish. 

Affordable/Obtainable Housing and Tiny Homes

Councillor Sherry Bondy said the conversation needs to continue on affordable housing.

  Lori Chadwick, Director of Development Services, explained the Town is currently looking at changing policies to incorporate second dwelling units in certain rural and urban areas, that meet criteria.

  Zoning for tiny homes, and potential land-lease communities for them, will be an option for Council to discuss in the future. Another option would be for Council to eliminate the R1 Zoning, to allow for the traditional single-family home, but to encourage more affordable housing options.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche said the message has to be pushed that Essex is open for business in regards to affordable/obtainable housing.

  Bondy said she gets asked all the time about tiny home opportunities, and wondered about creating subdivisions for them.

  Chadwick said a by-law will be coming to Council in the near future that could, if passed, amend the Zoning By-Law to align with the Ontario Building Code in allowing for a smaller dwelling, which is 240 square-feet.

  Another option Council could consider in the future is allowing three-season homes to be four-season homes, if the necessary services are available.  

Short Term Rentals

Councillor Sherry Bondy brought up the issue of short term rental units as she is still getting complaints about these matters.

  Director of Development Services, Lori Chadwick, said the Town is currently reviewing, evaluating, and drafting the components of a multifaceted project that will look at this, that will not only include provisions in the Zoning By-Law, but a possible licensing system for short term rentals.

  The Town, she added, is very close to launching an online survey on the matter to gather public input. An interactive, virtual open house will then be hosted with members of the public and stakeholders.

  A report will then be brought to Council on the matter for consideration.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman noted the two previous weekends, he had complaints regarding partying at short term rentals brought to him, and he advised the individuals to contact police.

Property Standards

Council spoke about property standards, and ways to improve communications between the Town and residents on the matter.

  Director of Development Services, Lori Chadwick, said the Town has a By-Law to enforce, in addition to the Ontario Building Code. Complaints are investigated, she said. “We always want to educate and seek voluntary compliance, whether it is for the Building Code or property standards issues,” Chadwick said.

  Chief Building Officer, Kevin Carter, said courts are backed up currently, due to the pandemic. He said it could take 2.5 years to get caught up on offences.   

Wayfinding Signage

Director of Development Services, Lori Chadwick, said the Town’s wayfinding signage program is ongoing. So far, signs have been added to Colchester and McGregor areas, that provide direction to municipal areas of interest. Essex Centre and Harrow signs will go up through their streetscaping projects.

  Economic Development Officer, Nelson Silveira, said the County of Essex is also working with TWEPI to implement tourism signage as part of a strategy, which he said should be completed this year.

Official Plan and residential zones

Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche said Essex is landlocked on the north-side of Highway # 3 in regards to residential development. He said Council should have a conversation about what it wants to do about that.

  Director of Development Services, Lori Chadwick, said the first thing to do is identify the need over the next 20-years. The Town’s Official Plan does that. The Town is currently preparing an RFP to retain a consultant to update the Official Plan as part of review that is done every five years. The County is also updating its own. 

The Town, if it is found there is need for addition residential area, could approach the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, but it is not easy to do as there needs to be a lot of justification, she said

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