Toronto’s current planning process can be confusing for residents eager to know how their neighbourhoods will be developed. The bylaws governing zoning, height and other standards are routinely amended in order to permit a proposed development that would not have met these criteria, which promotes deviation from supposedly accepted rules. Ever since the introduction of the Province of Ontario’s Places To Grow Act in 2005, the height and density restrictions in Toronto’s zoning bylaws have been rendered somewhat obsolete by the Act’s requirement that cities intensify. City officials now spend months negotiating with developers and engaging in public consultation to establish just how much intensification will be allowed for each application. The patchwork of rules and amendments results in uncertainty and long timelines for everyone involved.
This is why the City of Toronto is considering a complete overhaul of the rules and regulations that now guide the planning process. The adoption of Ontario Regulation 608/06 in 2007 under the Planning Act gives municipalities the power to implement a Development Permit System (DPS). The DPS eliminates the need for separate zoning, site plan and minor variance processes, combining them all into one application and approval process. The DPS is, in essence, an alternative to the current use of zoning as a means of implementing the Official Plan. It is designed to reflect the needs and desires of local communities. As such, it is applied neighbourhood by neighbourhood, with residents providing their vision and objectives to guide development in the area.
The discussion was held at Ryerson University’s engineering building, image by Marcus Mitanis
Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development held a discussion on Monday about the impacts and issues related to implementing a DPS in Toronto. In attendance were: Joe D’Abramo, Former Director of Zoning and Environmental Planning at the City of Toronto; Bob Blazevski, Executive Vice President of DiamondCorp; Bernie Steiger, Manager of Development Services, Planning and Infrastructure at the City of Brampton; and Brian Bogley, President of the Upper Jarvis Neighbourhood Association. The event was hosted by David Amborski, the Director of the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development.
Before a DPS can be implemented, the Official Plan needs to contain detailed policies. It must include the area where a DP bylaw could be enacted, goals, objectives and policies of the DPS, the criteria for evaluating the proposed development, types of conditions that may be imposed, and opportunities for delegation. The policies may also include requirements for section 37 community benefits.
Once a DP bylaw is enacted, all developments must conform to the standards and policies set within. That means that if there is a specified maximum building height of 100 metres, no development can exceed that limit. The bylaw could however specify ranges in building heights and other standards, leading to more flexibility. Section 37 benefits would be given in exchange for the “specified height” or maximum height listed in the DPS. A DP bylaw could include a specified amount of money the applicant must pay per building storey for example, up to the maximum. In terms of building use, the bylaw would set out which uses are permitted, but can also include “discretionary uses” that would be permitted. The bylaw may also include a variety of measures designed to protect public health and the environment by imposing conditions on the development.
The DP bylaw would essentially include all the standards and rules that a development would have to meet in order to be approved. If an application meets the standards outlined in the bylaw, it would be approved quickly. Any development that does not conform to these standards will be rejected.
City Planning has dubbed the proposed DPS ‘Reset TO’, image courtesy of the City of Toronto
The DP bylaw, once in place, replaces the zoning, site plan and minor variance requirements for the area. However, there seems to be a lack of clarity regarding whether site-specific amendments would be permitted. City Planning says they would not be, yet lawyers have indicated the Planning Act states that DPS policies cannot prevent site-specific amendments. Seeking a site-specific amendment under the new system would be more difficult than under the current system, but not impossible.
On the issues of the current system, D’Abramo said that due to the sheer amount of zoning bylaw amendments, “we’re not really sure where we’re going.” He stated that there is a lack of consistency and no vision for how we want our communities to be developed, agreeing with the City that a DPS could help solve the current uncertainty.
One of the most appealing and most touted aspects of a DPS is the streamlining of the review process. Since the local DP bylaw is established by the community, consultation about a development that meets all of the criteria would not be required. A decision on a DP would have to be made within 45 days, compared to the current 120 days when seeking a zoning bylaw amendment. Also, if a development proposal meets the criteria listed in the bylaw, third parties cannot appeal the issuance of a permit. In addition, only the applicant can appeal against the rejection of the application or the conditions attached to it.
Several cities in Canada have already implemented a DPS. In Ontario, the City of Brampton recently adopted a city-wide DP bylaw, though it has since been appealed. Steiger said that the framework will help Brampton “retain its heritage resources, allow for more range of uses and create more street activity.” The Township of Lake of Bays in Muskoka has also instituted a DPS along its waterfront.
David Amborski poses questions to the panel, image by Marcus Mitanis
Bob Blazevski of DiamondCorp. had some concerns about the proposed initiative, stating that “implementing a DPS is a questionable mandate; it may limit creativity.” He also questioned why the City would implement such a system after harmonizing the zoning bylaws of the pre-amalgmation boroughs of Toronto. Blazevski suggested that the system could first be adopted in one particular neighbourhood as a pilot project rather than implementing it city-wide.
Brian Bogley recalled his visioning exercise with the Upper Jarvis Neighbourhood Association. Similar to a DPS, he asked residents to explain how they wanted their community to develop. Both residents and developers would then have an idea of what the community wanted, helping to provide some clarity amongst the lengthy and intimidating planning process. On implementing a DPS, he said it “could be a benefit to the community.”
Countering this sentiment was former Councillor Kyle Rae, who spoke during the question and answer period following the panel discussion. He expressed concern that local DP bylaws could prevent tall buildings and intensification. D’Abramo argued that the impact of developments on infrastructure is often overlooked and thus, “the DPS is absolutely necessary for the City of Toronto.”
The discussion left those in attendance with a better idea of what a DPS is, though many were still confused about the implications the process would have on Section 37 benefits and the Ontario Municipal Board’s role in the process. If implemented, the system would require a major culture change at City Hall within a department that is already overworked.
For more information about the proposed system, visit Reset TO.
Do you have an opinion on whether a DPS in Toronto would solve many of our current planning issues? Leave a comment in the field below to have your say.