Toronto’s low-rise residential neighbourhoods are one of our strongest assets. Their general physical character and stability has endured over time and is strongly supported by community associations. However, stability does not mean that changes are not allowed. Within this framework, new development must be compatible with the physical character and be sensitive, gradual and generally reinforce the overall character.
These remain key objectives but there is also a need to recognize that our neighbourhoods might not be performing as they should. An opportunity exists to begin a conversation with communities across Toronto about the need to provide more housing choices within our neighbourhoods. Expanding permissions to accommodate more people in their underutilized houses or added housing types from duplexes to low rise walk-up apartments is not a new idea. This conversation requires sensitivity, a full respect for infill development and a creative mindset for the future ability of our neighbourhoods to accommodate more people.
In past decades, our low scale neighbourhoods housed more people than they do today due to changing family sizes, lifestyles and demographics. Many of Toronto’s most desirable neighbourhoods include a mix of detached, semi-detached, duplex, triplex and low-rise apartment buildings. However, for a variety of reasons the vast majority of Toronto’s low-density neighbourhoods only permit detached housing.
The need to expand housing options is both an opportunity and a priority for City Council. On July 16, 17 and 18, 2019, Council requested the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to report to the Planning and Housing Committee in the fourth quarter of 2019 on options and a timeline to increase housing options and planning permissions in areas of Toronto designated as Neighbourhoods in Toronto’s Official Plan and that Planning staff consult with registered community associations prior to submitting their report. Council also requested the Chief Planner to specifically address new housing opportunities in Ward 19, Beaches-East York, in consultation with the local Councillor. These recommendations were adopted by a vote of 20 in favour and 3 opposed with 3 Councillors absent.
Perhaps the most important challenge for the program participants is to discuss with communities the concept of gentle density and the fear of change. Perceived issues include physical incompatibility, a loss of neighbourhood character, devaluation of property values, traffic generation and greater stress on community services among many other matters. These are all valid and will require a healthy dialogue with communities.
This year’s Curtner Urban Leadership Program can begin that conversation. Residents know their neighbourhoods and are in the best position to identify how and where additional housing can be integrated into their community. This could take a variety of forms and options. City Council’s adoption of the Mayor’s motion for the Chief Planner to report back at the end of 2019 on new housing options and planning permissions signals a recognition of the changing attitudes that are emerging to modify existing zoning where it makes sense.
OFFICIAL PLAN POLICIES FOR NEIGHBOURHOODS
Toronto’s Official Plan was adopted by City Council in 2002 and subsequently approved by the Ontario Municipal Board in 2006. The core idea of the Plan was to direct most of the future growth into the downtown, North York Centre, Scarborough Town Centre, Etobicoke city Centre, the Yonge Eglinton Centre and the Employment Districts. Moderate growth was directed to “the Avenues” or numerous retail shopping strips which are the heart of most residential neighbourhoods located throughout the city.
The “Neighbourhoods” policy framework recognizes the stability of the low density neighbourhoods and states that future changes need to be in keeping with their prevailing character. Development criteria specified in policies 5-8 give guidance to ensure that new development fits in with the physical patterns and character of established neighbourhoods.
However, it is most important to understand that these policies do not mean that only detached houses should be developed. In fact, Policy 1 in Chapter Four, specifically states that “Neighbourhoods are made up of residential uses in lower scale buildings such as detached houses, semi-detached houses, duplexes, triplexes, townhouses and interspersed walk-up apartments”. Low scale buildings are in fact permitted up to 4 storeys provided that they address the character policies. This recognition is often overlooked but acknowledges the existing reality of different housing types in our neighbourhoods.
In December 2015, City Council adopted Official Plan Amendment 320 which included additional policies pertaining to Neighbourhoods. The final form of the policies was approved by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal in December 2018. The effect of OPA 320 was to further itemize aspects of prevailing character in terms of density, dwelling types, setbacks, location, design and elevation. An ongoing debate continues on the meaning and interpretation of prevailing physical character.
Does interpretation of this policy framework prohibit the development of new low scale housing types that could create much needed housing choices? How can the policy intent be clarified? What would convince communities to embrace modifications?
NEW STUDIES AND INITIATIVES
The Chief Planner will report to the Planning and Housing Committee at the end of 2019 on a proposed work plan framework to explore the potential for additional housing options and planning permissions within Toronto’s neighbourhoods. This important work will likely involve extensive study throughout 2020 and could result in a Proposals report that will be the subject of much discussion.
In addition, in a letter dated September 30, 2019, Mayor Tory has requested the Chief Planner to develop a plan for a public design competition in order to solicit ideas that could help shape policies for more permissive zoning in areas designated as Neighbourhoods in the Official Plan.
Affected communities will be involved from the beginning to the end of the program. An all-day city-wide bus tour with walking tours of selected neighbourhoods will kick start the program. It will be followed by a Roundtable discussion of community representatives and a cross section of current and future residents to facilitate greater understanding of the existing policy framework, interpretation and changing attitudes about expanding housing choices in neighbourhoods. The Roundtable will be an entry point into the proposed city planning report requested by City Council and the study process to be undertaken in 2020. It will also give the ULI program participants an opportunity to extract key issues, concerns and opportunities to be addressed in subsequent sessions. A review of how other North American cities are coping with their respective zoning issues in residential neighbourhoods will be discussed.
Session 1 – Neighbourhood Bus Tour – October 26, 2019
Session 2 – Roundtable: Community Representatives, Councillors, City Staff – November 20, 2019
Session 3 – Reflections on Bus Tour and Roundtable – December 5, 2019
Session 4 – City Planning Presentation and Workshop – January 24, 2020
Session 5 – Guest Speakers and Workshop – February 20, 2020
Session 6 – Re-frame: How to address the challenge of the Yellow Belt in the context of the COVID environment – April 24, 2020
Session 7 – Engagement Strategy – May 29, 2020
Session 8 – Town Hall Civic Dialogue and Recommendations to City of Toronto Planning Staff – June 23, 2020
Class of 2020 Curtner Urban Leadership Program participants:
Dalia Bahy, City of Brampton
Olwen Bennett, New Commons Development
Richard Borbridge, Metrolinx
Amy Buitenhuis, City of Toronto
Angela Buonamici, IBI Group
Cheryll Case, CP Planning
Joanna Chludzinska, City of Toronto
Josephine Cusumano, CreateTO
Alexander Elgin, B+H Architects
Jasmine Frolick, Castlepoint Numa
Sahar Ghafouri, North York Harvest Food Bank
Angela Khakali, Ministry of Health
Ibrahim Khalil, Minto
Jed Kilbourn, Waterfront Toronto
Jeffrey Lee, IMCO Investments
Kristin Lillyman, Dillon Consulting LTD
David MacMillan, City of Toronto
Stephanie Maignan, B+H Architects
Michael Otchie, ERA Architects
Catherine Pan, Toronto Community Housing Corporation
Trevor Smith, Entuitive Corporation
Michael Spatafora, Quadrangle
Karl Van Es, Quadrangle
David Wittenberg, Devron Developments
City of Toronto Official Plan Neighbourhoods Policies, https://www.toronto.ca
Official Plan Amendment 320, Adopted by Council December 9, 2015
Zoning By-law 569-2013
July 16, 2019 City Council MM9.36 “Expanding Housing Options in Toronto-Tackling the Missing Middle and the Yellowbelt”
Alex Bozikovic, Cheryll Case, John Lorinc, Annabel Vaughan; “House Divided: How the Missing Middle can Solve Toronto’s Affordability Crisis”, 2019
Anne McAfee, “Tools for Change: CityPlan Vancouver’s Strategic Planning Process”, Built Environment 2013:438-53
Henry Grabar, “Minneapolis Confronts Its History of Housing Segregation”, Slate, December 7, 2018
John Lorinc, “Breaching the Yellowbelt”, Spacing Magazine, Fall 2018
George Popper, “How city hall is keeping needed change out of stable neighbourhoods”, Spacing Magazine, March 5, 2019
Seattle Planning Commission, “Neighbourhoods for All: Expanding Housing Opportunity in Seattle’s Single-Family Zones, 2018
Toronto Public Library, “A Brief History of Zoning Bylaws in Toronto”, Toronto Reference Library Blog, December 14, 2015
Portland, Oregon, Residential Infill Project: Adding more housing options for residents’ changing needs
Profile Toronto, June 2019, “How Does the City Grow?-Update 2019”, Planning and Housing Committee, PH 7.12