Three downtown councillors are vowing to slow down any building proposals that go against the spirit of development plans that were “unilaterally” altered by the province last month.
Councillors Mike Layton, Joe Cressy and Kristyn Wong-Tam held a joint news conference at city hall on Thursday morning to announce that they are creating “red light, green light” system to evaluate development proposals in their wards and determine how helpful they will be in moving those proposals forward.
Their efforts are in response to the provinces decision to make hundreds of changes to the city’s development plans for the downtown core and the Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue neighbourhood.
“Without any warning, without any notice and in a unilateral manner the province ripped up TOcore (the downtown development plan). What they did was reestablish the Wild West for developers downtown and that has put at risk the long term livability and prosperity of not only downtown but our province as a whole,” Cressy told reporters. “We will stand up and fight for good development and we will stand up and fight to slow down and hinder bad development.”
The TOcore plan had been in the works since 2012 and was intended to help shape development in downtown Toronto over the next 25 years.
The province, however, made 224 changes to the document, eliminating or reducing requirements for no-residential uses in some areas and softening the language on the provision of child care and community facilities as a condition of development.
In a statement released Thursday, Building Industry and Land Development Association President Dave Wilkes called the new plan an "anti-housing strategy."
"This blatant disregard of provincial policy is the opposite of a housing strategy, in fact it's an anti-housing strategy," he said. "The net impact will add cost to the City, add cost to new home purchasers, increase the delays of much-needed livable housing close to transit and lengthen approvals times as challenges and appeals are undertaken to ensure that the law is respected."
In a memo sent to councillors after the changes were imposed, Chief Planner Gregg Lintern said that the province generally eliminated provisions “introduced to ensure development does not outpace infrastructure” while also “allowing increased intensification.”
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Wong-Tam said that while the province does have the ability to change development guidelines, individual councillors can prioritize work in their offices however they would like and do have “some sway” by doing so, hence the red light, green strategy.
“Good developers and good development will be rewarded. Bad development will not be,” she said.
Some municipal permits could be denied
Wong-Tam said that downtown councillors can work to stop proposals flagged with a red light through a number of measures.
She said that first and foremost they will “deprioritize” flagged proposals and make sure that proposals awarded a green light get the attention of staff first.
From there, she said that a holding provision could be applied to some development permits deemed to not be supported by current infrastructure. That hold could then only be removed by a vote of council.
She said that certain ancillary municipal permits could also be denied, further slowing actual construction.
“Good luck trying to build your tower or your condo if we don’t give you the road occupancy permit. Good luck if we don’t give you that permission to remove that single tiny little tree. It is simply not going to happen,” she said.
Province says changes are necessary to spur development
The province eliminated provisions that required that buildings be set back at last six metres to allow for wider sidewalks, reduced the minimum size requirement for multi-bedroom units and even scrapped another requirement that had forced to developers to replace any community facility lost through redevelopment.
For its part the province has said that the changes are necessary to spur on development.
In a statement provided to CP24, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said that the changes support his government’s “priorities around increasing housing supply” with a particular emphasis on “intensifying development around major transit station areas.”
“City council needs to get on board and encourage development to take place near major transit areas and plan for a mix of housing options. The threat made by Toronto council members today – to abdicate their responsibilities and prevent new homes from being built - is unacceptable to the hardworking taxpayers in Toronto, whose dream of living in the city will be obstructed by a game of red light-green light,” he said.
Clark said there is a housing supply problem in Ontario and suggested that the changes to the city’s development plans reflect his government’s intent to build “the right types of homes in the right places.”
Cressy, however, pointed out that downtown Toronto’s population has doubled over the last 15 years and is slate to doubled again over the next 25, so growth is hardly an issue.
“I don’t think any Torontonians or Ontarians who stand at the corner of Yonge and Bloor or King and Spadina and look up thinks for a moment that we need to spur greater development because the rules don’t allow it,” he said. “What we need to do is ensure that as we grow we grow in a manner that will ensure that the future of the city and the province is both livable and prosperous and by gutting the city’s master plan the province is not in any way increasing housing supply. Rather what they are doing is putting In jeopardy long-term livability.”