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One plan, fewer dollars for downtown

City to vote later this month on amalgamating development incentive funds

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

While proposed changes may make it easier for developers in Oshawa’s downtown, the amount of money available to them may soon take a hit.

Late last year, Oshawa staff proposed conglomerating their two downtown community improvement plans (CIPs) into one large Urban Growth Centre CIP.

The aim? To have one plan for the entire downtown area, and to have that CIP align with boundaries laid out by the province when they labelled Oshawa’s core as an urban growth centre in 2006.

The designation sets a goal of 200 people and jobs per hectare in the downtown by 2031. Oshawa currently sits between 105 and 110.

The new plan also eliminates the loan programs currently offered to developers through these programs. Previously, the city allowed lenders a savings when their loans were paid back in a timely manner.

“Most of them were taking the loan and paying it back quickly in order to get (savings),” says Paul Ralph, Oshawa’s commissioner of development services.

Loans are also required to be filed as a lien on the property, which means a lot of paperwork on the city’s end. By eliminating the loans and having only grants, it could save staff a lot of work, Ralph says.

“There’s a lot of administrative red tape that we’re avoiding,” he says.

The new plans are also more updated and should be workable for future years, Ralph says.

“It puts in place more up to date programs that are more likely to succeed over time,” he says.

CIPs are put in place to encourage development in certain areas of the city by offering monetary incentives and benefits for building in particular areas. Oshawa currently has five CIPS: one for the university area in the north end, two for the downtown, one for brownfields and one for Simcoe Street South.

Under a new combined plan in the downtown, developers would be fighting over a $60,000 pot of cash, which is also shared by the city’s brownfield CIP.

According to Ralph, once that pot of money is gone, that’s it for CIP incentives for a given year, which he will be asking council to reconsider once the program is up and running.

“Once we get the new community improvement program in place, then we’ll be speaking to council with the 2017 budget to see if there’s an opportunity to increase that $60,000 to something greater,” Ralph says.

For perspective, in the last five years under the city’s Central Business District CIP (one set to be conglomerated under the Urban Growth Centre CIP), the city approved more than $800,000 in different incentives.

With the exception of last year, more than $125,000 was approved every year and more then $214,000 was paid out through 13 different applications in 2013.

For Councillor John Aker, the chair of the development services committee, the time to shovel money into the downtown is over.

“Municipalities usually throw money at a downtown to make it better. The Oshawa downtown is now in a strong development mode,” he says. “Strong in every aspect.”

Aker says the new plan will allow for the city to encourage specific types of development in the downtown that is needed, like residential.

“I do not believe we have to throw taxpayers’ dollars at the downtown to improve it,” he says. “I truly believe our downtown is moving forward in a very positive way and the council wants to encourage that forward movement.”

Following a public meeting on the CIPs amalgamating passed on Feb. 28 with no public opposition, the decision is set to go to council on March 21.