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Development report and urgent need to act on housing in PEC

Council received reports and recommendations to foster development and to stimulate growth in Prince Edward County during Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Council will receive the Development Framework Report, proposing recommendations aimed at addressing process, policy and challenges. Subject to council approval it will have an implementation plan developed by a subcommittee.

Last July, the Community and Economic Development Commission identified priorities for 2016. Among them a process for new residential, commercial and industrial development. Meetings of the subcommittee focused on themes identified by the Mayor’s Development Forum in late 2015. Members included industry stakeholders, elected officials, citizens and staff.

The Development Framework Report is available on the County website. The document includes 34 recommendations. High level challenges were identified as:
Current approvals process and communications with municipal officials
– Staffing resources and decision-making
– Infrastructure availability and fees
– Lack of clear engineering guidelines
– Affordable/Social housing requirement
– Uncontrollable issues (hospital/wind turbines)

“Promoting development and growth is a key priority for the County and this framework is an important step along that path,” said Mayor Robert Quaiff, noting the report covers a year and a half of investigation and collaboration between staff, elected officials and representatives from the construction and development industries.

“This process represents a much-needed conversation that succeeded in bringing developers and the municipality onto the same page, said Quaiff. “This process is not yet complete. Over the years to come, it will take dedication from our elected representatives and municipal staff to implement the recommendations… It will also take patience and collaboration from our local developers as we continue to take steps to improve the systems.”

Rick Conroy, of Wellington, says the need to act on housing is urgent.

He was asked to attend Committee of the Whole Thursday to repeat a presentation he made last week to the County’s Economic Development Committee.

“The need to act, is urgent,” said Conroy. “There is strong demand to live in this community, propelled by Prince Edward County’s powerful brand. But housing supply is poor. This fundamental imbalance between supply and demand is why this community is becoming increasingly unaffordable for all but a very few.”

Conroy points to a shrinking population, “toxic to everything we want to build in this community – from our schools, to the prospects for a new hospital and far beyond.”

“Unchecked, it will pick up speed,” he said, noting decline has already been reflected in the loss of 78 long-term care beds from Picton Manor’s closing.

He suggests removing hurdles and marketing directly to owners of land representing 1,700 residential units in settlement areas in different stages of municipal development as noted in the County’s Official Plan update in 2012.

He spoke of 700 units in three subdivision agreements around Wellington that have been sitting dormant for six years as potential supply, but questions why developers are shying away.

“There likely isn’t one single reason,” he said, but offers clues in lower costs in Quinte West and Belleville.

“For each new home that gets connected to Quinte West’s waterworks, they are charged $4,400. In Belleville the fee is $3,600. The same house, on this side of the bridge, will set a builder back more than $12,000. This fee was set to rise to $18,000.”

He cites a development at Quinte West marketing 400 homes and expanding to 600 homes with closings on about 10 homes a week and its use of County names in their marketing.

“By comparison Shire Hall issued permits for 128 new homes for the entire County for all of 2016,” he said, noting the Young’s Cove Prince Edward Estates markets house models such as the Picton Bay, the Cherry Valley, the Milford, the Wellington or the Bloomfield – all situated in Quinte West.

An example of the supply and demand imbalance warping the County’s housing market, he said, was a house in Wellington selling for $330,000 that a year ago might have traded for $175,000.

“At that level it might have been affordable to a young working family – but no longer. The fact for many, a basic house in Wellington is sadly out of reach.”

He pressed it is imbalance of supply and demand and calls the increase of weekend residents and vacation homes a red herring.

“The demand to live here is strong – an advantage over other rural communities in this province… We need to clear the hurdles blocking prospective buyers from living in Prince Edward County.”

He offered council points to consider:
1. Recognize competitive market and prepare to compete on fees, service and agility. Consider incentives.
2. Meet with major landowners holding subdivison agreements to find out what is holding them up.
3. Support and promote recommendations from the County’s developers forum.
4. Support recommendations from the waterworks committee if they put waterworks connections under a development charges structure that is accountable, predictable and reviewable.

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