I’m pleased to participate in tonight’s public meeting. The path to this presentation started for us in the fall of 2018 with the Chamber’s City of Opportunity election platform, which described ten actions designed to support the development of opportunities for everyone in the community of Thunder Bay.
As one of our actions, we asked candidates to “Say yes to great neighbourhoods” by recognizing that walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhoods make for interesting and exciting places to live and work while leading to increased connections between neighbours, more physically active residents, safer streets and a greater sense of pride and identity. We thank every member of this Council for committing to reforming city by-laws and policies to build sustainable neighbourhoods based on mixed-use, mixed-income areas that allow people to live, work and play in a walkable space.
With such decisive support, the Chamber moved forward with defining a vision for the city and articulating the changes that we want to see in the new zoning by-laws. We met with a diverse range of community groups, social agencies and business associations to bring to the City a dynamic and holistic vision for how zoning reform can improve our community. We then had extensive engagement with City administrative staff and City Council members to discuss this vision and find common ground. The Thunder Bay CEDC also undertook an employment land strategy in 2020, which recommended changes to the City’s zoning by-law to reduce identified barriers and expand opportunities for business growth.
The draft zoning by-law presented by Leslie McEachern and the Planning Services team in Fall 2021, reflects a new approach to zoning presented in a user-friendly way that makes it significantly more accessible and understandable for businesses and home-owners alike. The newly defined zones are a significant improvement over the previous by-law in allowing greater flexibility of use. A complete re-think of this magnitude is really hard work and we applaud the Planning Services team for their considerable efforts to bring this to reality.
In recent months, Planning Services has facilitated numerous opportunities for stakeholder input, including a business community consultation hosted by the Chamber and the Thunder Bay CEDC, which generated valuable feedback that helped to inform the final version that is before us tonight.
The Chamber is excited about the changes proposed in this Zoning By-law which we believe take significant steps towards our shared vision of walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhoods.
.Neighbourhood based business is key to a healthy community. It is proven to increase community resilience, enhance trust and social bonds, and improve the local economy as our dollars stay close to home. It’s also been proven to reduce crime and increase the tax base as entrepreneurs keep a watchful eye and infrastructure is used most efficiently.
While our central business districts have become more flexible and more welcoming to business with these zoning reforms, many of Thunder Bay’s residents live in business deserts. There is nowhere in walkable distance for them to buy a cup of coffee, pick up a bag of milk, buy a new dress or get a haircut. We know walkable mixed-use neighbourhoods are a big part of the future of the business landscape, which is why we are enthusiastic about the proposed Urban Mixed Use Zone. The addition of the Urban Mixed Use Zone permits the needed flexibility to encourage small scale, pedestrian oriented businesses within established neighbourhoods and has the potential to create the walkable, tight-knit communities we all want to live in. Unfortunately, the current mapping of this zone is rather limited and historically oriented. It doesn’t allow for any new entrepreneurial activity to serve our neighbours with their daily needs. Moreover, the cost and time involved in the traditional re-zoning process serves as a major barrier to achieving the full potential of these proposed changes.
To encourage this transition, we recommend that City Council direct Planning Services to develop an expedited approval process for applications that fit the Urban Mixed Use criteria. We envision a simple, straightforward processes that allows neighbourhood-based entrepreneurs to operate micro scale businesses that serve the walkable community. This process would be unique in its accessibility and swiftness, operating outside of the traditional rezoning process – acknowledging the low risk and community-oriented nature of these applications.
Another way that zoning can support the entrepreneurial spirit is through home-based businesses. Establishing a home-based business is often the first step for a budding entrepreneur to test out a business idea without taking on significant overhead costs. It also provides flexibility to earn income for those caring for young children or aging parents. The Thunder Bay Multicultural Association has shared examples of new international arrivals that have started a home-based business to ease entry into their new country.
The proposed Zoning By-law provides regulations that guide the operation of home businesses and has removed the previous limit on the number of customer appointments per day. We support this change and recommend that it go further by increasing the number of non-residents that can work in the home to better enable home business growth opportunities. We believe the proposed limit of one non-resident employee is too restrictive and doesn’t acknowledge the reality of the needs of home-based businesses who rely on assistance from friends and family to help them succeed.
Zoning also plays an important role in addressing the housing needs of the local labour market. Thunder Bay is poised for significant growth through regional mining projects – the availability and affordability of housing is a key factor in this opportunity.
Exclusionary zoning, defined as zoning that permits only single-unit homes, has become a hot topic in recent years with housing advocates such as the Ontario Real Estate Association calling on the Ontario Government to update the Planning Act to support the creation of more affordable housing by removing this zoning option. Thunder Bay’s newly defined residential zones remove the exclusionary zoning that existed in the previous by-law. This visionary move puts us ahead of the curve on potential Planning Act changes. Ultimately it will help to address our shortage of affordable housing by encouraging increased neighbourhood density.
In summary, the Chamber is strongly supportive of the proposed zoning by-law as it represents a significant opportunity for the city to support business growth and address housing affordability challenges. Prior to its adoption, we recommend a change to the home business definition to increase the number of employees permitted.
Once the zoning by-law is approved, we recommend that Council consider an additional resolution to direct administration to develop an expedited approval process for applications that fit the Urban Mixed Use criteria.
Thank you for your time and attention.