The Planning Act and Community Improvement Plans: A Summary
Part IV of the Planning Act (the “Act”) outlines municipal authority for the implementation of a “community improvement plan”.
The Act allows the designation of a community improvement project area for any “environmental, social or community economic development reason”, including building age or structural condition, overcrowding, poor planning, unsuitability of buildings, or intent to encourage affordable housing.
These justifications have been interpreted broadly since Re Yonge Street Regeneration Project, 1998 CarswellOnt 6675, where a Joint Board of the Ontario Municipal Board and the Board of Inquiry agreed that s. 28 of the Act is not limited to curing physical deterioration. The Joint Board relied on the wording “for any other reason” to conclude that a valid CIP can be undertaken on the basis of physical deterioration and neighbourhood quality.
Upon an application for judicial review of the Joint Board Decision, the Ontario Court of Justice affirmed this view, holding that the language “is sufficiently broad to allow municipalities to designate community improvement project areas on the basis of whether there may be social or economic benefits to such a designation regardless of whether the area suffers from any physical dilapidation or blight”.
Designation of a CIP by Council under s. 28(2) of the Act requires enabling policy in the municipality’s Official Plan. Based on the definitions provided in Section 28(1) and (1.1), a community improvement project area can be a single, specific property, a larger area that is deemed to be a desirable candidate for redevelopment, or even the entirety of the municipality.
In addition, community improvement plans are subject to Ministerial approval, and the preparation of a community improvement plan is treated in the same manner as the preparation of an Official Plan. Subsection 28(5) incorporates the provisions of Section 17 respecting consultation and public meetings, submissions and comments, adoption of the community improvement plan, and prescribed notice.
Section 28 itself does not specify rights of appeal; rather, the ability to appeal a community improvement plan is created by reference. Under section 28(5) of the Act, section 17(49) as it read on the day before the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, 2017, incorporates section 17(36) of the Act, which allows for an appeal of all or part of the decision by a person who made oral or written submissions to Council.
Effect and Opportunities
Where a By-law has been passed to designate a community improvement project area, section 28(3) allows the municipality to acquire, hold, or prepare land for community improvement, or to facilitate private investment.
The statutory powers available to municipalities once a community improvement plan is in effect are described under subsection 28(6) and (7), which allow construction or rehabilitation of buildings on municipally-held land, the granting of financial incentives to owners or tenants, or the disposition of buildings or land by lease or sale to any person for a use that conforms with the community improvement plan.
Community improvement plans may also be used in conjunction with brownfield remediation programs, heritage property relief, and property tax assistance through subsections 365.1 and 365.2 of the Municipal Act, 2001 and subsections 333 and 334 of the City of Toronto Act.
When employed with a community improvement plan, the brownfield remediation assistance provisions allow for a municipality to cancel all or a portion of municipal taxes. They also allow deferral of municipal taxes for contaminated properties within a community improvement project area if the community improvement plan contains policies contemplating tax assistance for remediation of contaminated properties.
A municipality may also pass a By-law to implement property tax relief of 10 to 40 percent for owners of eligible heritage properties, subject to an agreement to protect heritage features.
Without a valid community improvement plan, these grants and loans to private property owners and property tax relief programs would be illegal per section 106 of the Municipal Act, 2001 and section 82(1) of the City of Toronto Act, 2006. The “prohibition against bonusing” in that provision prevents municipalities from financially assisting any industrial or commercial enterprise, including lending money, leasing at below-market value, loan guarantees, or exemptions from charges or fees, unless done under the authority of a valid community improvement plan.
The municipality may, by By-law, dissolve a community improvement plan and community improvement project area.