Outdated zoning bylaws in municipalities across the GTA are contributing to our worsening housing supply shortage, further eroding choice for new home buyers and ultimately adding to the price growth of new homes.
Zoning bylaws control the use of land in a community. While official plans set out a municipality’s general policies for future land use, zoning by-laws put those plans into effect. They regulate how land can be used, determine what types of buildings can be built, and control the size, height and location of new developments. These bylaws are administered by municipalities and vary by neighbourhood.
All new development applications must conform to the zoning bylaws of the area to get approval. Unfortunately many municipalities across the GTA are operating with badly outdated zoning bylaws that don’t align with provincial policies.
Ontario’s growth policies mandate intensification in much of the GTA, such as the development of high-rise or mid-rise condominiums and stacked townhomes in urban areas and near transit stations. However the zoning bylaws for many of the urban areas and the areas around transit stations have not been updated to reflect the desire for higher density development.
North York is a good example of an area with out-of-date zoning. Much of North York is covered by zoning bylaws that were developed in the 1950s and that only allow for the development of single family detached homes, including areas along and adjacent to the Yonge and Sheppard subway lines.
The extent of outdated zoning bylaws was recently brought to light when a local planner made a map that broke down residential zoning in the City of Toronto. It showed that more than half of the City is zoned for single-family detached homes. As well, 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. Needless to say, the map garnered interest from local media and lots of discussion on social media.
Antiquated zoning creates unrealistic public expectations of land use, particularly when it comes to height and density. Community opposition to intensification is a growing challenge in the GTA, and outdated zoning bylaws play a significant role. Explaining to residents that the stacked townhome development proposed for their neighbourhood is in accordance with planning policy would be a lot easier if the area wasn’t zoned for detached homes.
Out-of-date zoning makes the already long approval process even longer and contributes significantly to delays in bringing projects to market, which results in additional costs for new-home buyers. A couple of recent studies quantified the effect of development delays. Earlier this year the Fraser Institute found that development approvals in the GTA are delayed by an average of 18 months and play a significant role in rapidly decreasing housing supply. An earlier study by the Ontario Association of Architects found that each month that a project is delayed ends up costing the purchaser $2,375. That’s an extra $28,500 per home if the development is delayed by one year.
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 to start enforcing this rule so that zoning bylaws can be used can be an effective tool for implementing provincial intensification policy and help deliver the development that is needed to house our growing population.