In Conversation With: Darren Steedman
By Gale Beeby
Don’t let the affable manner and big smile fool you; Darren Steedman takes his role as chair of the board of directors at the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) very seriously.
Still, it’s hard not to like him.
Steedman, who is vice president at DG Group Development (formerly Metrus Development), has his work cut out for him with a mandate that takes on several local and provincial policies, including the review of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), the Growth Plan the proposed inclusionary zoning scheme, and development charge reviews.
Q: First, let’s find out a little bit about you. Where did you get your start and how long have you been in the industry?
A: I graduated from Laurentian University in 1998 with an economics degree. I started as a summer student with Metrus Development (now known as the DG Group as of April 2015) in 1997, doing anything and everything. They rehired me during the winter break and the summer of 1998 and offered me full-time work when I graduated. I applied to the Ontario Professional Planners Institute under the affiliated degree program and got my Registered Professional Planners Designation in 2004.
I recall very early in my life, heading into the office with my dad, meeting the guys, watching the draftsmen, helping where I could and even going on site visits. I have been around this industry my entire life and some would say that it’s even in my blood.
My father Allan Steedman, president of Schaeffer Consulting Engineers, is my mentor as a father and as an industry leader. This was where it began, where I started to figure out what I love to do, where I started to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up.
The real estate portfolios I manage are as far north as Barrie and as far south as Niagara Falls. I’ve worked on a number of projects, from brownfield, greenfield, residential (low, medium and highrise), commercial and employment.
Q: You’ve become chair of the board of directors with a two-year term. What are your mandates?
A: My top priorities while working with BILD staff are the province’s Growth Plan, the review of the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board), inclusionary zoning and affordable housing.
We will continue to work hard, get engaged and advocate for our industry on these critical issues that will shape our future.
As well, we will be preparing for both the provincial and municipal elections next year. It’s our chance to remind the province that it’s time to get serious about housing and that we will continue to advocate to make housing an issue.
Q: With over 100,000 people moving into the GTA each year, what do you think the biggest challenges are facing in the industry in creating safe and liveable communities?
A: We have a huge housing supply challenge in the GTA. There is not enough of it and there are not enough of the types of housing that people really want. To fix the infrastructure crisis we need to address several issues.
First, over the last 10 years lack of infrastructure has gone from being a challenge to a crisis, and that severely hinders our ability to develop land, build employment spaces and communities and increase housing supply.
We spend a lot of time talking about transit and transportation in the GTA because it is our most visible infrastructure challenge.
Across this region we are facing other infrastructure crunches that are impeding growth and development. Chief among them is insufficient water and wastewater systems and services. I’d be willing to bet that for most builders and developers in Ontario, lack of water and wastewater infrastructure is currently limiting our ability to build homes and develop land. In some cases, the necessary servicing won’t be in place at least for another decade.
To make things happen and to build more houses and employment spaces we need adequate water and wastewater infrastructure. The land might be out there but it is not shovel-ready.
It’s critical that government invests in the water and wastewater infrastructure needed to accommodate our growing population and explore viable funding models and solutions.
Second, the length of the approval process and the amount of red tape needs to be addressed. Over the past 10 years, we have seen a very lengthy approval process. A study completed in 2016 by the Fraser Institute found that development approvals in the GTA are delayed by an average of 18 months and play a significant role in the rapidly decreasing housing supply and add to the growing price of new homes.
And third, many municipalities across the GTA are operating with badly outdated zoning bylaws that don’t align with provincial policies.
Out-of-date zoning makes the already long approval process even longer. Municipalities are required to review their official plans every five years and update their zoning bylaws no later than three years after a revision.
It’s time for the province and municipalities to start enforcing this rule so that zoning bylaws can be used as an effective tool for implementing provincial intensification policies and help deliver the development that is needed to house our growing population.
Q: The province has been looking into disbanding the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) as a place for developers and builders to appeal decisions made by the municipalities. What are your thoughts on that, and what would you do instead of repealing?
A: BILD strongly supports the essential role of the OMB as an impartial, evidence-based, administrative tribunal that is responsible for handling appeals of land-use planning disputes. In this administrative authority, the OMB serves to ensure that provincial land use policies and objectives are achieved and that municipalities employ consistency in the application and implementation of land use legislation.
OMB reforms will create an environment where municipal councils will have no incentive to make tough but better decisions that will support provincial plans and good planning.
I would allow municipalities greater time to make a decision beyond the current standard (270 days), staff the OMB for mediation and full hearings and dire ct public funds to ensure that all parties at the hearing are fairly funded.
Q: DG Group (formerly Metrus Development) has a well-earned reput ation for planning and developing communities in a sustainable manner. What names does the DG Group build under and what is the philosophy behind that mandate?
A: We look at sustainable communities beyond simply the green nature of the statement. The ConDrain Group of Companies, which DG Group is a part of, is one of the few companies that operates in the residential, office, retail and ICI space. While we pride ourselves on building green infrastructure that lasts, we take pride in our communities and how they operate in real life conditions.
We ensure that our resident’s children can walk to school; we ensure that they have greenspace and parks for everyone to enjoy. We ensure that employment lands are vibrant and well designed for our client’s needs and our retail spaces that meet the demand of the community.
Q: What has made you the proudest?
A: What I love the most is touring one of our complete communities and watching the kids walk to school, playing in the park and enjoying the greenspace. I feel a sense of satisfaction seeing in real life the solutions to the issues that we came up against along the way and how we made it happen.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
A: OMB reform, Inc lusionary zoning and the Fair Housing Action Plan.
Q: What is your pet peeve?
A: The lack of priority housing has b een given by our various levels of government.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: Anything outside; I hate being indoors. Camping is one of my favourite ac tivities. We did a two-week camping trip in our Airstream trailer to Quebec City, Halifax and the Bay of Fundy. My wife Kelly and I want to show the kids Canada. I also enjoy golfing, skiing and I play a little hockey. I love the Toronto Maple Leafs and I have great hope this is the year.
DG GROUP PORTFOLIO
- New Barrie, Barrie
- Bond Head, Bradford West Gwillimbury
- Dreamfields, Bradford West Gwillimbury
- Springdale Community, Brampton
- Mayfield Village, Brampton
- Cleaveview Estates, Brampton
- Lakeshore Woods, Oakville
- Mayfield Employment Centre, Brampton
- Hometown, Guelph
- Caledon East, Caledon
- Humberside, Caledon
- Credit Manor, Brampton
- Waterdown Meadows, Hamilton
- Confederation Heights, Thorold
- Lyons Creek, Niagara Falls