Now that the Province has increased intensification and density targets in the GTA and plans to replace the Ontario Municipal Board with a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, it’s more important than ever that municipalities update their zoning by-laws.
Zoning by-laws designate land-use types in a community and set density permissions. While official plans set out a municipality’s general policies for future land use, zoning by-laws put those plans into effect. They determine what types of buildings can be built, and control the size, height and location of new developments.
These by-laws are administered by municipalities and vary by neighbourhood. Unfortunately many GTA municipalities are operating with badly outdated zoning by-laws that don’t support provincial intensification.
Despite the outdated zoning by-laws, our industry does its best to comply with provincial smart growth policy by going through re-zoning applications which are costly and inefficient. The industry has been building to a more intensive pattern of development for years in an effort to meet provincial requirements.
Outdated zoning makes what is already a long approvals process even longer and contributes significantly to delays in bringing projects to market, which in turn means additional costs for new homebuyers. Updated zoning by-laws would help alleviate these issues and would enable the industry to build needed housing in the form policy requires.
After amalgamation in 1998, Toronto had more than 40 zoning by-laws, some dating back to the 1950s that were inherited from the six municipalities amalgamated. As you can imagine, community needs have changed dramatically over the years and especially since the introduction of the Province’s Growth Plan in 2006. Some areas of the city were updated with new zoning prior to the Growth Plan, but the changes raised density permissions only slightly.
In 2013, a new harmonized zoning by-law was passed by the City which merged the existing by-laws into one. However the emphasis of the harmonization was on developing common terminology, structure and set of defined zoning terms that would apply across Toronto. The merged by-law did little to update height and density permissions so that they would align with intensification requirements.
Ontario’s growth policies mandate intensification across the GTA, and means more development needs to happen in existing urban growth areas especially near transit stations and corridors. Yet the zoning by-laws for many of these areas have not been updated to enable higher density development and most still only allow single or semi-detached homes. For example, areas on and around subway lines, such as the majority of land around Yonge Street north of Eglinton, were zoned for low density development when as per the Growth Plan they should be used for transit-oriented high-rise communities. Without the proper zoning in place it’s hard to meet policy.
There is also a huge disconnect between the public policy and public perception. Community opposition to intensification is a growing challenge in the GTA, and outdated zoning by-laws contribute to this disconnect. New development in existing communities has many local residents worried about the growing impact higher densities could have on the established neighbourhoods.
Now more than ever municipalities need to update the zoning by-laws. With increased intensification and the proposed reform of the OMB it will only get more challenging to build to policy and deliver the development that is needed to house our growing population.