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Record applications for Niagara development

By Allan Benner, The Standard
Friday, December 1, 2017

Niagara Region’s planning staff are busy, and they’re poised to become even busier dealing with a record number of development applications having been received at the start of 2017.

“Overall, there has definitely been a significant increase in development proposals throughout the region,” said the municipality’s planner, Rick Wilson.

“It represents a significant investment and growth in our local communities.”

Considering the growth, Niagara planning and development commissioner Rino Mostacci said the Region may need to rethink the way it manages services.

“I often say that it’s the new normal. We can’t really focus on what’s happened in the past anymore. It’s not relevant. The data is supporting that in terms of house prices, volumes, pre-consultations,” Mostacci said. “This is the new normal and we have to start managing the new normal in a different way than we’ve managed the various services in the past.”

Wilson teamed up with planner Greg Bowie for a presentation at Wednesday’s planning and development committee meeting to discuss the recent and expected growth taking place throughout Niagara.

Wilson said the Region received 386 development applications during the first half of year, a 12 per cent increase over the same time period a year earlier — and the most Niagara has seen in a six-month period.

“That’s the highest number of applications that regional staff have considered in any half-year period since we’ve been tracking this information,” Wilson said.

Bowie said industrial building permits issued in the first half of this year increased by 29 per cent compared to the same time period in 2016, totalling $19 million in project values, while permits for commercial developments increased by 46 per cent for a total of $67.5 million in worth, and permits for institutional and government facilities jumped by 116 per cent to nearly $50 million.

Those increases were the result of projects such as the GE plant being built in Welland, a new hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake as well as the expansion of the Outlet Collection mall, and Niagara College and school board investments.

There is also a significant increase in the number of groups that are considering developments in Niagara communities, which indicates the trend may continue.

For instance, Wilson said regional planning staff attended 356 pre-consultation meetings with prospective developers in the first six months of 2017, compared to 236 a year earlier.

St. Catharines Coun. Brian Heit pointed out the significance of the pre-consultation meetings, calling it “really good news.”

“If we’re talking to them now, they might not be developing until the second half of the year or next year, so it looks really promising for the next year or so,” Heit said.

Said Wilson, “We’re going to be busy. We are busy.”

There were also 1,414 real estate building permits issued this year and 1,014 new homes were completed.

It was information committee members, including St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms, were eager to share.

“For all the flak we take in the media about how the Region is dysfunctional … well St. Catharines media, maybe, this presentation illustrates where we are functioning well. And the results of the last few years of putting a priority on prosperity is showing up in these results, and I would very much like to see this presented at St. Catharines council.”

Timms successfully amended the motion to distribute the report to local municipalities, to also include an offer to make the same presentation at local council meetings.

Despite the growth, Bowie said Niagara’s real estate market is starting to slow down after a few years of steady increases.

“Due to increasing costs and new legislation including Ontario’s new Fair Housing Plan, sales have been declining slightly,” he said, adding housing sales dropped two per cent by mid-2017, compared to the same time period in 2016.

Average real estate prices increased by $92,000 for a total of about $408,000 — 29 per cent more than a year earlier — but that could soon change, too.

Bowie said Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is anticipating a slight drop in Niagara housing prices by the end of this year, as a result of decreasing affordability, increasing housing stock and expected mortgage rate increases.
Last Modified: December 17, 2017 09:33 AM
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