A look at what’s happening on the ground: Changes to Toronto’s Official Plan and Zoning By-laws

Carolyn Kim

Land use planning policies have a lasting impact on our quality of life and the way we live, play and work in our communities. For me, land use planning is one of the most relevant examples of how public policy directly impacts our daily lives. With a view of downtown Toronto from U of T campus, it is quite visible how policy decisions manifest themselves into our physical environment (and relatively quickly I might add). There are a few obvious examples: the booming construction of condominium towers in the city, the new streetcar line on St. Clair Avenue and the future light rail on Eglinton Avenue, and the revitalization of neighbourhoods like Regent Park.

For these reasons, we should take notice of a number of policy changes that are happening in Toronto, namely the City of Toronto’s Official Plan and Zoning By-laws.

The City of Toronto is undertaking a statutory five-year review of its Official Plan and Municipal Comprehensive Reviews, as required by the Planning Act, RSO 1990. The City’s Official Plan provides the policy direction that guides growth in the long-term until 2031. As a part of this process, the municipality is reviewing policies related to employment, transportation, affordable housing, heritage, and residential and commercial development, to name a few. At the same time, the City of Toronto is preparing a comprehensive city-wide zoning by-law to replace the existing framework of 43 separate zoning by-laws applicable to the former municipalities of North York, Etobicoke, East York and various areas in Scarborough. Unlike official plan policies, zoning by-laws regulate the use, size, height, density and location of buildings on properties and affect every property in the City. Collectively, the City of Toronto’s Official Plan and zoning by-laws provide the policy framework and regulatory strength that critically shapes the planning and development of Toronto’s future.

As public policy students and future practitioners, we should also pay close attention to the way in which these new/updated policies are being implemented. Policy change, in the form of regulatory tools such zoning by-laws, is no small undertaking; and the City of Toronto’s move towards a comprehensive city-wide zoning by-law exemplifies the difficulties surrounding policy change and implementation.

In 2010, the City of Toronto passed By-law No. 1156-2010 but as a result of hundreds of appeals of the zoning by-law to the Ontario Municipal Board and general criticism and confusion regarding its implementation, it was repealed in 2011. Much of the problem was on how the new Zoning By-law 1156-2010 was transitioning with the existing by-law.

In my experience as a transportation planner, I can relate to the problems associated with the new by-law transition as its application varied widely depending on the property. As a result, the lack of effective transition policies in place created uncertainty for owners of properties that had development projects in the midst of the planning approval process or “development pipeline”.

The Draft City-wide Zoning By-law has been since revised based on further public consultations and comments from City staff; and now includes transition protocols and clauses to deal with pipeline development projects, and a means to reduce the appeals of the new Zoning By-law. Such revisions hope to provide a more pragmatic approach to transitioning to a new city-wide zoning by-law moving forward.

Since the new by-law was originally introduced in 2010, the Planning and Growth Management Committee is now ready to consider the enactment of the revised Draft City-wide Zoning By-law in a statutory meeting on March 6, 2013. With respect to the Official Plan review, public consultations on specific sections of the draft Official Plan policies are still ongoing and being considered at the Planning and Growth Management Committee.

I would encourage you to keep updated on the progress of the City of Toronto’s planning policies. Let’s think about how we as members of the community and future policy makers can participate in the conversation and development of policies that create vibrant, livable, healthy and well-designed communities.

Read more about the city-wide zoning by-law here. Keep updated on the public consultation process and materials on the Official Plan review here.

Carolyn Kim is a 2014 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She is a Member of the Canadian Planners Institute and a Registered Professional Planner with the Ontario Professional Planners Institute. She previously worked as a land use and transportation planner.


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