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Key Municipal Government Act amendments affecting planning

Key Municipal Government Act amendments affecting planning

Updated December 2017 

A key initiative for AUMA is to provide input on amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA), as it provides the foundation for the way that municipalities plan, govern, and pay for services for their residents.

The amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) are contained in the Municipal Government Amendment Act (MGAA 2015), the Modernized Municipal Government Act (MMGA 2016), and An Act to Strengthen Municipal Government Act (ASMG 2017). These amendments come into force on various dates between October 26, 2017 and April 1 2018. A few amendments have yet to be proclaimed as work continues to refine the regulations related to these amendments. Key changes are highlighted here under seven headings.

AUMA’s analysis of the proposed MGA amendments can be found on our dedicated Municipal Government Act Review Page. Tools and additional resources to assist municipalities with MGA change management are available on the MGA Change Management Resources Page.

Intermunicipal Collaboration

An overarching theme of the amendments is an emphasis on intermunicipal collaboration. The tone is set in the preamble to the Modernized Municipal Government Act, which notes the importance of working together with Alberta’s municipalities to cooperatively and collaboratively advance the interests of Albertans. This intent is defined by adding to the purpose of a municipality the phrase, “to work collaboratively with neighbouring municipalities to plan, deliver and fund intermunicipal services” and by adding to the duties of a councillor the phrase, “to promote an integrated and strategic approach to intermunicipal land use planning and service delivery with neighbouring municipalities”.

Two specific mechanisms are proposed through which this intent will be carried out. Firstly, growth management boards are mandatory for the Edmonton and Calgary metropolitan regions. Growth management boards will be required to prepare a regional land use plan and address the delivery of regional services and infrastructure. The Capital Region Board is deemed to be a growth management board, but its membership is reduced to 13 municipalities from 24. The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board Regulation creates the new board with 9 municipal members. The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Regulation came into force on October 26, 2017 while the Calgary Metropolitan Region Regulation came into force on January 1, 2018.

Secondly, all municipalities not within a growth management board are required to prepare an intermunicipal collaboration framework (ICF) with their neighbours.  ICFs are agreements between municipalities as to the services that are to be delivered by the municipalities and whether and how any of these are to be shared.  An ICF is not considered complete until every municipality that is party to the ICF has adopted an IDP that provides for the coordination of future land use. The ICF regulation provides details as to how the binding arbitration process will be carried out, as well as details as to what municipalities are to include in dispute resolution processes within their ICF.

Municipalities that are members of a growth management board will be required to prepare an ICF with any adjacent municipalities that are not a member of the growth management board and with other members of the same board to address any matters that are not covered in the growth management plan.  These provisions, including the Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework Regulation, come into force on April 1 2018. Municipalities will have 2 years until April 1 2020 to adopt an ICF or a one-year mandatory arbitration process will be initiated.  Once completed, municipalities will be required to review their ICF once every 5 years. 

AUMA and RMA have developed an ICF Workbook with the support of Municipal Affairs, which is available on the AUMA's MGA Change Management Page.

Mandatory Plans

Every municipality is required to adopt a municipal development plan (MDP). In the past, only municipalities with a population of 3,500 persons or more were required to adopt an MDP.  Now all municipalities must have MDP in place by April 1, 2021, which communicates the long term desired land use for a community and serves a high-level blueprint showing how a community is expected to change over time and the shape it will take in the future   Municipal Affairs has developed a Guidebook for Preparing a Municipal Development Plan to assist municipalities with developing MDPs that meet the requirements in the MGA.  

As mentioned above, municipalities that are required to adopt an ICF will also be required to adopt an IDP by April 1 2020.  AUMA and RMA's ICF Workbook includes guidance on developing an IDP.  

Transparency and Clarity in Planning

Municipalities will now be required to maintain a list of any documents or policies that are intended to guide planning decisions. The list must include a summary of each document or policy and a statement explaining how they relate to one another and to any plans or bylaws adopted under the Planning Part of the MGA. The list must be completed and published by January 1 2019. Planning authorities and appeal boards may not consider documents or policies unless they are included in the list. Examples include such matters as outline or concept plans, design guidelines, and requirements for the type of documents to be included in a subdivision or development application. 

A hierarchy of plans is also established in the amendments to the MGA. If there are any inconsistencies or contradictions between the plans, an IDP prevails over an MDP with respect to any lands included in the IDP and an MDP takes precedence over Area Structure Plans or Area Redevelopment Plans.

New/Expanded Planning Tools

The scope of offsite levies is expanded to include community recreation facilities, fire halls, police stations and libraries. Neighbouring municipalities will now be able to collaborate with one another on the sharing of intermunicipal off site levies to fund  improvements that are of benefit to the municipalities. These provisions came into effect October 26, 2017. Affected persons will be able to appeal the specifics of the expanded levy to the Municipal Government Board. Provisions enabling municipalities to collect off-site levies to pay for improvements to provincial highway connectors were added to the Off-site Levies Regulation in May 2018. 

Provisions to allow municipalities to require developers to provide inclusionary housing have not been proclaimed. A regulation setting out details of when a claim for inclusionary housing may be made and the basis for offsets to compensate developers is currently under development.

Provision to allow municipalities to grant multi-year tax forgiveness on properties that have been identified as brownfield sites were proclaimed in effect January 1 2018. Additional details regarding the multi-year incentives are available on the AUMA Brownfields Hub.

A change in the rules for assessment of property will have implications for planning. Municipalities will now be able to add a sub class of property for small business to the non-residential property class. The draft regulation defines small business as one employing 50 full time employees or less. The tax rate for the small business sub class cannot be greater than the lesser rate for either of the other non-residential property sub classes (vacant non-residential and improved non-residential). These provisions came into effect January 1 2018. In addition, there is a maximum ratio of 5:1 for non-residential to residential tax rates. This provision was effective as of May 31, 2016.   

Subdivision and Development Approvals and Appeals

A number of changes are proposed to the process for receiving and deciding on subdivision and development permit applications and appeals. Principal changes include revision to the notice requirements to allow for an electronic means of giving notice (i.e. publishing on the municipal web site), allowing an additional 20 days to the period for deciding on subdivision and development permit applications within which the municipality must determine whether the application is complete, and related provisions allowing for deemed refusal where applications are determined to be incomplete.

Flexibility to adopt alternative timelines for processing subdivision and development permit applications originally confined to cities and specialized municipalities has now been extended to all municipalities with a population of 15,000 people or more. Subdivision and development appeal boards will now be limited to having only one member of council, however the Minister will have the ability to order that these new restrictions do not apply to a municipality when there are challenges in recruiting panel members who are not councillors. These provisions are effective October 26, 2017. There is also a new requirement for Subdivision and Appeal Board (SDAB) members and clerks to undergo mandatory training based on a standard program developed by Municipal Affairs before April 1, 2019

Reserves

The definition of Environmental Reserve (ER) has been modified to clarify that ER is taken where there is a significant risk of personal injury or property damage resulting from the development or use of the land. Municipalities may now also require developers to provide lands considered to be environmentally sensitive as Conservation Reserve (CR). Landowners, however, must be compensated for these lands based on fair market value of the land prior to subdivision. Statements concerning CR must be contained in an MDP before any lands can be taken as CR. These provisions are effective October 26, 2017.

Joint Use Agreements with School Boards

Provisions requiring municipalities to enter into joint use agreements with school boards to address reserves and other matters have not yet been proclaimed. Work continues to be done on the legislation and related regulations.

Change Management

Information bulletins along with other information  on the amendments have been released by Alberta Municipal Affairs and can be viewed on their MGA Change Management Page. AUMA has developed a number of change management resources in partnership with RMA and Municipal Affairs including an Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework Workbook as well as guides and templates for codes of conduct and public participation policies. AUMA is continuing to work with other stakeholders on the identification and development of additional change management resources.