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It's time for a "gentler" approach to density


BY SHELLEY CARROLL

First off, I want to thank everyone who reached out to me about my long-term care column last week. We received a record number of responses and it renewed my commitment to maintain a focus on that file long after the pandemic subsides. I also can't go into today's e-blast without acknowledging the movement happening south of the border and across Toronto and Canada to protest systemic anti-Black racism. Just this week, I (and my colleagues on Council) have received thousands of messages demanding action. Anti-Black racism is real and pervasive in our institutions and we must do better. I'm not avoiding this conversation — rest assured, I will discuss this with you in-depth in next week's e-blast. I just need a few days to gather my thoughts.

Today, I want to bring you up-to-date on growth and development in Don Valley North. The North York planning office resumed full operations on Monday, which means we're gradually returning to contending with our ward's rapid growth. So, let’s review where we’ve been, what’s coming up and the policy changes that may guide growth in the future. Toronto's Official Plan In Ontario, every municipality is required to have an Official Plan (OP) and an accompanying Zoning By-law. The OP is basically a vision document which lays out how and where the city should grow, ideally. Toronto’s Official Plan was produced back in 2000 and is based on a forecast for growth up to the year 2041. Despite the ups and downs of the global economy and unanticipated world events, that forecast has generally come true across the GTA. In fact, we are tracking slightly ahead of the forecast as Toronto arrives at 3 million people in 2020. So, it is a good thing our OP is a trio of visions:

  1. To increase housing at all income levels,

  2. To preserve employment lands and generate new employment areas, and

  3. To improve our ability to move people with an enhanced transit network.

To make investment in transit viable, Toronto’s OP calls for growth to be concentrated along major roadways served by transit (also called "Avenues") while preserving our existing low-density, single-family neighbourhoods.

While our Official Plan and provincial planning regime has maintained your neighbourhood as promised, we are now experiencing overwhelming density on our Avenues. A new report from the Ryerson City Building Institute calls this phenomenon “tall and sprawl”. The report, titled Density Done Right, challenges us to think about density in other ways. It might provide a way to re-jig our OP to meet our housing needs in the post-COVID19 economy. Gentle density I'm sure many of us would like to see smaller buildings popping up along our Avenues instead of high rises. I often hear from residents that they don't like having high rises right at key intersections, because the large influx of residents causes congestion and traffic.

The authors of Density Done Right agree and suggest we should move away from this high-density model. As the drawing above demonstrates, they propose accommodating the same growth — just gently. What would that look like? Well, we would have to stop opposing lot splits that allow for two homes on one property. We would also have to stop fighting the construction of legitimate secondary suites. We would have to start seeing the development of townhomes on the outer edge of subdivisions as an opportunity, not a tragedy. The more we consider these opportunities in a new light, the more we can get away from the "tall and sprawl" phenomenon.

At this point in the column, you might think your Councillor is coming for your nice, quiet street. I ask you to consider a few things about the current conditions. An Official Plan that holds our neighbourhood streets sacred, even as the City is growing rapidly, has led to rampant illegal density. Rooming houses and vacation rentals are placed throughout our subdivisions because there are no legal locations for them that would place them in better areas outside the suburbs. Legally-licensed secondary suites would provide accessible housing that fits better with our quiet neighbourhoods as well as help ward off illegal rooming houses. Where we fight lots being split in two, we get monster homes so out of context with neighbouring properties that they appear comical. Instead, what if we opened our minds to thoughtfully-designed two-family homes?

An intertwined two-family home with modern interiors.

High-rise development is massively expensive and takes five to seven years to construct. While Ontario cities have done their best to require developers to include affordable housing in their buildings, we are seeing more and more developers apply to construct extremely tall buildings in order to offset the cost of those affordable units. To move from "tall and sprawl" to gentle density, we have to re-think our own Official Plan. Our Chief Planner is going to have to present a plan that can make the right case to the province. I believe there is no better time to make that case than right now.

Yes, we're living through a pandemic — but gentle density can be achieved with far less expense and takes half the time of building high-rises. In the post-pandemic economy, lowering the costs of construction and infrastructure while still providing more housing for our growing community just makes sense. What’s next for DVN In the meantime, Don Valley North is very busy with applications under the current Official Plan. Most of these are along the Sheppard subway. As soon as the North York planning office opened back up, applicants began checking in. In a "normal" economic downturn, we can expect a slowing of the real estate market. To use the 2008 Global Financial Crisis as a reference, this means developers will continue as usual through the application process until they receive a decision from Council or finish appealing to the LPAT. Beyond that, they may monitor the financial and real estate markets for some time and decide to delay the construction. But this is not the usual kind of economic downturn — we will have to wait and see how it unfolds. Check out Ryan's Lo-Down below for more detail. To refresh your memory, he's put together a list of recent applications in Don Valley North. If you have any questions about these, be sure to send him an email.

 

As Shelley mentioned above, development in Don Valley North hasn't quite slowed down. Here are a number of recent applications that have been received by City Planning staff and remain under consideration:

  • 699 Sheppard Ave E

    • This is a re-submission by the developer since the last community consultation meeting back in January. The application is proposing a 12-storey mixed-use building with 170 residential units.


  • 680-688 Sheppard Ave E

    • The application is proposing a 24-storey residential building with 527 residential units, including 35 rental replacement units. It includes a new day nursery.


  • 1181 Sheppard Ave E

    • The application is proposing a 22-storey office building and a 25-storey residential building with 513 units, connected by a mixed-use podium. It also includes a new day nursery.


  • 1 Heron's Hill Way

    • This application was just received this week – it proposes a 39-storey mixed-use building next to an existing 2-storey office building.


  • 2450 Victoria Park & Bayview Village Mall

    • These applications have previously-scheduled LPAT appeals pending. However, it is not known when LPAT offices will re-open post-pandemic. City Council has not voted on the direction to be taken at these hearings.


  • Parkway Forest

    • The last block of buildings, which includes a grocery store, is under construction. Currently, there are no further applications inside Parkway Forest.


Both 680-688 and 1181 Sheppard Ave E were on deck for a community consultation meeting this year, but due to the current public health measures, Planning staff are looking for alternative ways to gather residents' input. In the meantime, if you have feedback for any of these applications, please feel free to contact me at ryan.lo@toronto.ca. I will share your comments with Shelley and forward your email to the assigned Planner on the file for consideration. For more information about other development applications in Don Valley North, visit our website: shelleycarroll.ca/development-updates. Sincerely, Ryan Lo




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