Mayor John Tory is speaking out after the Ford government turned to a rarely used legislative tool to sidestep the local planning process for three development sites in the West Don Lands, calling it a “less than ideal situation to say the least.”

The Ford government recently issued three ministerial zoning orders (MZOs) to permit the development of high-rise residential towers on three provincially owned sites (373 Front Street East and 90 Mill Street, 125 and 125R Mill Street and 153 to 185 Eastern Avenue).

The orders effectively allow the province to skirt the city’s approval process, which typically involves public consultations and a review by various city divisions.

It also takes away the city’s ability to negotiate various community benefits as a condition of approval, such as playgrounds and parkland.

Speaking with reporters during a media availability on Tuesday, Tory pointed out that there are plans to “hopefully” develop hundreds of affordable housing units on those lands that will ultimately be “a plus for the city.”

But he said that the use of ministerial zoning orders to sidestep an approval process that was already ongoing is disappointing.

“I think when you have a tool like this that is so powerful and can so easily override even just the consultative process, let alone the decision making process of important developments in the city it should be used very sparingly and it should never be used where the city learns about it in the dark of the night the night before it happens and I think we have some discussion to be held on that with the province,” he said.

The three ministerial zoning orders apply to two developments that were in the midst of the approvals process, including one (373 Front Street East and 90 Mill Street) that was expected to come before council for a final vote this week.

The proposal for that development, it should be noted, called for 248 of its 834 residential units to be designated as affordable housing. The ministerial zoning orders, however, do not explicitly lay out a requirement for affordable housing to be constructed as a condition of approval. .

On Tuesday, Tory acknowledged that the orders apply to provincially owned lands, something that he said is a “factor in all of this.”

But he expressed frustration with the fact that the city was only notified the night before they went into effect and was given no opportunity to provide its input.

“I hope we can sort of have a look at this with the minister and go back to a day where this was selectively used either at the request of the city or in very close consultation with the city because in the end the city should have the domain over its own planning decisions,” he said. “I just think the City of Toronto is too important in the context of the size and scale of the planning decisions we have to make here and that our government is too accountable and has its own degree of expertise about what is good for it to have these kind of things routinely overwritten by the wishes of the province.”\

Ford defends use of ministerial zoning orders

Ford was asked about his government’s use of ministerial zoning orders during a briefing on Tuesday afternoon and said that it will allow several projects containing 1,000 new affordable housing units to move forward quicker than they might otherwise.

“Sometimes you have to put out a MZO rather than wait two or three years and go through all the process,” he said. “We are in desperate need of affordable housing across this province, there is no place we need it more than Toronto and I am glad we are going to have 1,000 affordable housing available in the City of Toronto.”

In a statement issued on Monday, the two city councillors for the lands where the developments are proposed – Joe Cressy and Kristyn Wong-Tam – accused the Ford government of “shuttering community input” and paving the way for the “potential loss of current and future community benefits.”

Wong-Tam also said that the decision “is another example of Premier Ford's contempt for the City of Toronto's ability to govern our own affairs.”

“The use of a MZO this way sets a dangerous precedent where a developer can go directly to the province to side step the municipal planning process, avoid public scrutiny and remove the right to appeal,” she warned.