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DC Discount: Whitby community improvement plan

NRU
July 4, 2018
Rachael Williams

Whitby council has amended its downtown community improvement plan to offer 75 per cent development charge exemptions for high-density residential developments in the town’s historic district.

Council approved the revised community improvement plan at its June 25 meeting in an effort to attract private sector investment in the town’s core. The area has experienced a slow pace of growth for a number of reasons, including its proximity to the Toronto and York Region markets.

“What we find in Whitby and elsewhere in Durham Region is that it takes a while for market forces to kind of make their way eastward out of the Toronto-York market and then land in Durham,” said Whitby planning and development commissioner Roger Saunders.

There are also complications with infill development in the downtown, including land assembly and sewer and water capacity, according to Whitby mayor Don Mitchell.
“Despite having some really supportive people in the development industry really on side and wanting to achieve something, the numbers just aren’t working out in the absence of [incentives],” he said, referring to the need for greater municipal investment in stimulating downtown growth.

Staff recommended a number of incentives to encourage growth in the core, including significant development charge exemptions, cash-in-lieu of parking, tax increment equivalent grants and fa├žade improvement grants. The town retained Hemson Consulting to undertake a financial analysis of staff’s recommendations.

Most of the development incentives are applicable within the entire CIP area, which extends to the CP Railway line in the north, Highway 401 in the south, Garden Street in the east and Cochrane Street in the west.

Within that boundary, there is a core area known as the Historic Downtown Whitby Priority Area, which includes properties bounded by John Street to the north, Ontario Street to the south, Hickory Street to the east and Henry Street to the west. The 75 per cent development charge exemption applies only to high-density residential developments within the historic district.

Although development charge exemptions are fairly common for municipalities looking to encourage growth in their cores, a 75 per cent exemption is on the high end when compared with other community improvement programs. For example, in Vaughan, development charges in the CIP area are reduced to the pre-2013 rate, which is $20.35 per square metre of ground floor area, down from the current $53.68 rate. This amounts to a reduction of approximately 62 per cent.

“It’s a little unusual,” said Saunders. “But council wanted to provide that little bit more to put greater focus on the potential to realize development in the core.”

City Homes is likely to be one of the first beneficiaries of the development charge incentive. The Oshawa-based residential builder is in the preliminary stages of a planning application to build a residential high-rise at the Four Corners in Whitby, which is located at the intersection of Dundas Street and Brock Street.

There are only a few other empty sites in downtown Whitby planned for redevelopment, including the old Chamber of Commerce property at 128 Brock Street South which is owned by the town. Council envisions that site being transformed into an office and commercial complex, but has yet to find a development partner to move forward with the development.

There is also an old fire hall located at 201 Brock Street South. Waverley Projects and the FRAM Development Group plan to build 23 townhouse units, 12 of which are expected to have ground-floor commercial space on the site.

“The biggest thing to support a downtown is to have people living there, people who have means, people who are able to support the various jobs and services and amenities and give life to the downtown,” said Mitchell.

The city is investing $2.83-million to implement the downtown CIP, which will be in force by mid-summer.

“The BIA [Business Improvement Area] is very happy with the CIP plan as we feel it will attract more business and developers to the downtown core,” said Downtown Whitby BIA executive director Karey Anne Large. “We also feel that the quick turnaround ...is going to be very beneficial to all of the existing businesses downtown as well.”

Projects that meet the criteria for the CIP could also qualify for the Regional Revitalization Program, which offers incentives for new construction projects, additions to existing building, significant infill proposals and brownfield redevelopment.