It upsets me no end that wealthy property owners can get planning approval for a development and then sit on it for years, sometimes decades, doing nothing.

Too often this goes directly against the public interest.

In today’s Toronto Star, Christopher Hume, argues for a sunset clause where planning approvals expire after a set number of years if construction has not started. The property owner would then have to re-apply. In the UK planning permissions generally lapse after 5 years.

Hume talks about our broken planning system:

 “You needn’t look far to see that planning in Ontario is anything but. It has become a process so flawed, it actually creates the opposite. Indeed, if we had set out to create a system guaranteed to result in chaos – we’ve got it.”

He goes on:

 “The most recent example came last week when Riteland Holdings Inc announced it would build a luxury housing subdivision in the Oak Ridges Moraine – more than 16 years after the project was approved.”

In Newmarket we can do better than that. Planning approval was given for a 12 storey 115 unit condo at 22 George Street in 1993 and, scandalously, it is still a patch of bare dirt 22 years on.

The same owner, Peter Czapka, is also sitting on undeveloped land at 39 Davis Drive where planning approval was given in 2009 for a 280 unit 20 storey condo.

This is not a matter just for the owner. There are Town-wide ramifications if development is postponed indefinitely. Water and sewage allocations that would ordinarily go to major developments in Davis Drive and the urban centre will be channelled elsewhere, to Glenway perhaps. Another example of the law of unintended consequences is in the making.

So, what is to be done?

In October 2013 the Province announced a review of the land use planning system but it is like wading through treacle to get hold of a list of those who responded and to find out what they said. Is seems as if everything has disappeared into a big black hole. Where is the sense of urgency?

On 13 January 2014 Newmarket put in its own submission to the review but our councillors, inexplicably, are not demanding a change in the law to force developers like Peter Czapka to act on planning approvals rather than allow them to gather dust. (If the earlier link doesn't work try this and scroll to page 116.)

What will it take to get our councillors to act? 

Empty buses going past empty lots on Davis Drive while developers hoard their land, waiting for its value to go through the roof? Maybe then we shall see something stirring in the undergrowth. 

Update on 17 February 2015: Regional Councillor John Taylor has helpfully been in touch to say that when he was Chair of Planning he asked staff to include in York Region's submission to the Province a request that the Land Use Planning Review include a sunset clause on planning approvals.

A copy of the covering letter of 9 January 2014 from the then Director of Long Range Planning Val Shuttleworth and Edward Hankins, Director, Treasury Office was forwarded to me. It says this:

“ON January 9th, 2014, York Region Committee of the Whole considered and discussed the attached report. Committee of the Whole endorsed the Report with the additional request that the Province also consider possible legislative changes to the Planning Act that would allow approval authorities to place time limits on zoning approvals, similar to those lapsing provisions already available on plans of subdivision.”

Taylor says: “I think it is safe to say we will not know to what degree this is being considered until we see draft legislation or a report of some nature.”

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