Applying for a plan of condominium

On February 17th, Kris talked to Amanda Warren (awarren@trentlakes.ca) of Trent Lakes planning department about what is required to move forward.  Her answers apply to any property in Peterborough County that isn’t currently zoned for residential development, and should presumably be the same elsewhere in Ontario. She said that Ontario governments, at the provincial and municipal level, are just beginning to talk about cohousing and creating planning rules that apply specifically to cohousing developments, but that this is still in the very early stages.  

A provincial committee has been formed to study the topic, but realistically (especially given the election coming up next year) it will be at least 2 years before there is any progress.  She recommended that we proceed with the current planning options.  However, it is encouraging that Ontario has at least recognized cohousing as a concept and municipal councils may be receptive to the idea.

Given the current options, Amanda suggested that a plan of condominium is probably the way to go.  This involves hiring a planning consultant. There are a number in Peterborough, (including EcoVue, which did a recent Trent Lakes project), as well as many in Toronto that have done work in this area before.  It probably makes sense to hire someone who is familiar with the issues in the area, although we may want to hire a cohousing consultant first, and then have them work with a local planning consultant.  

Marc also suggested that we investigate whether structuring the project as a retirement home business in which we are all part-owners would be a better way to go.

The planning consultant would then conduct (or hire specialists to conduct) the environmental and engineering impact assessments.  The engineering assessment will examine things like whether there is a need to improve roads, do we need storm water management (for nearby ponds and ditches) and they will do a hydrological assessment to determine if there is enough water for the number of units we are proposing.  I assume that a property that is on city services would have less requirements of this sort.  

The environmental assessment looks at the possible negative impact on wetlands or woodlots, and species at risk.  According to the township’s GIS database, the Farm is in a large area that contains species at risk (possibly turtles or birds, at a guess), and we would need to evaluate potential harm (this was the only red flag that Amanda found).  We would also need a setback from the pond, and we have to be a certain distance from the gravel pit (but for a simple extractive pit, Amanda thought that was only 150 metres).  They would also do an archaeological survey, to determine if there was any chance that there is cultural significance to the property

Once all of that is completed and the results are favourable, the planning consultant would write a Plan Justification Report.  This includes ensuring that our plans fit the Official Plans of both the county and the township, and presents a justification for why this development is worthwhile.  It is expected that most development occurs in what are called settlement areas – eg. Buckhorn, Lakefield, Peterborough, etc.  If something is built outside of these areas, it must be shown that there is some intrinsic value to the location.  

These are usually framed as resource-based developments – they are on the waterfront, or next to a golf course, or some other desirable common resources.  At the Farm, we don’t have waterfront, but we could make an argument for access to walking trails, a swimming pond, view of the lake, etc.  Still, we may not exactly fit the mold.  However, a smaller scale development (12-20 units) would be looked on more favourably than a larger development in a rural area.  

The decision would be up to the county and township councils.  The fact that we are dealing with the senior housing problem could perhaps be persuasive.  However, this process can take quite a long time – it could be 5 to 10 years before we get final approval.  All of the assessments have to be done, and then it has to be approved by both councils, and neighbours have to be given a chance to have a say.  This definitely suggests that we should start moving soon.  

Once we hire a planning consultant, we should contact Amanda, and set up a pre-planning meeting with the county and township planning departments, where they will go over all of the necessary steps.  Costs will include the fees for all of the consultants and their reports, as well as a minimum of $5600 for the plan of condominium application.  The application form is here: https://goo.gl/tpk90K.

There could be another option.  In a follow-up email, Amanda added: “As discussed, the style of development you suggested made me lean towards the Plan of Condominium, but there is certainly always the option of rezoning to a special exception zone to allow multiple dwellings and renting them out as well. The rezoning route would not allow the shared ownership idea but it might be a more simple way of getting what you need.”  

She explained that we could have the property rezoned as tourist-commercial, and it could then be built as a senior retirement community, with separate dwellings that are owned by a single entity and rented out.  That entity could presumably be organized as a co-ownership or a co-op.  This method could be significantly faster and cheaper; we would probably still need to do environmental impact studies, but perhaps less of the other required assessments, or with less detail.  We would also have less issue with building outside of a settlement area, as most of the tourist businesses in this area are out in the country.

For a discussion of the differences between condominium, co-ownership and co-op structures, see: https://goo.gl/OIrf1I

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