THE PROPOSED BUILDING TRANSIT FASTER ACT: WHAT IT COULD MEAN FOR LANDOWNERS
The Ontario government has introduced legislation aimed at fast-tracking the property acquisition and expropriation process for four ‘priority’ projects – the Ontario Line, Scarborough Subway Extension, Yonge North Subway Extension, and Eglinton Crosstown West Extension.
If passed, Bill 171, Building Transit Faster Act, 2020, would enable the Ministry of Transportation and Metrolinx to avoid a procedural step in the formal expropriation process and expedite certain pre-construction due diligence and utility relocation activities. Individuals that may be affected by the changes include owners of properties required for the transit corridor(s), as well as owners of properties located within 30 metres of the designated corridor(s). The proposed changes impacting landowners include:
- The elimination of inquiries or ‘hearings of necessity’ provided for in the Expropriations Act. Under the existing legislative framework an owner can request the procedural step of a hearing of necessity wherein an independent party, an Inquiry Office, considers whether the proposed taking of land is 'fair, sound and reasonably necessary' to achieve the objectives of the Expropriating Authority. While the report of an Inquiry Officer is non-binding and an expropriation can still proceed even if the findings of the inquiry are in favour of an owner, a hearing can provide an opportunity for the parties to exchange information and owners to raise concerns early in the process. As an alternative to hearings, it has been indicated that the Minister may establish a process for receiving and considering comments from property owners in relation to the four projects. To date, there are few details as to what this alternative process may mean for owners.
- Access to private property to undertake inspections and testing without an owner’s consent. Although the Ministry/Metrolinx would be required to provide advance notice before entering a property, government contractors would have the ability to enter private lands and carry out due diligence activities without the consent of an owner, if there is a lack of agreement amongst the parties. While consent is not currently required for an expropriating authority to carry out surveying activities on private property, the proposed changes would expand the right of entry to include due diligence activities such as environmental tests, vibration and other studies.
- Removal of trees, shrubs, hedges and other obstacles from private land without consent. Items that are deemed to pose an immediate danger or otherwise impede construction could be removed immediately and without notice. Currently, the Ministry/Metrolinx requires possession or permission in order to remove items.
- Prescribed timelines for utility companies to take up, remove or change the location of utility infrastructure (i.e. hydro and gas lines, etc.). The Ministry/Metrolinx would also be given the authority to occupy, modify and temporarily close municipal services (i.e. sewers and water works) and rights of way, if necessary for the transit project. While it is unclear how these changes may impact owners, if at all, it is possible that the prescribed utility relocations and modifications to municipal services may create the need for access to properties with existing or planned utility and service easements on an expedited basis.
- Limiting development on or near the transit corridor lands by requiring permits, with some exception for projects that have already been approved. As a result of this change, some owners may find that they require a permit from the provincial authority in order to proceed with planned projects on their properties.
Under the proposed changes, the Ministry/Metrolinx would continue to be required to restore lands and provide compensation for damage to property as well as removed items (provided that the owner does not hinder, obstruct or interfere with the removal).
If you may be impacted by one of the four projects and proposed changes, please feel free to contact us.
To learn more about the draft legislation and impacts on the acquisition process see: