Provincial changes to midtown, downtown plans gut protections for sunlight, office growth, community services: chief planner


Toronto’s chief planner says hundreds of surprise changes by the province to the city’s plans to manage growth in midtown and downtown has scrubbed requirements for developers to provide new office space, reduces protections for sunlight on public parks, and strips the need to build community services.

In memos sent to all council members Thursday evening, Gregg Lintern outlined key changes to the city’s Midtown in Focus and TOcore plans delivered by the province a day earlier — these are plans that set out the rules and requirements for development in those fast-growing areas — saying there is more review still to be done and that a report to council was being prepared for the July meeting.

In total, the province made 194 modifications to the midtown plan and 224 changes to the downtown plan, Lintern said.

Broadly, the changes highlighted in Lintern’s memos confirm the provincial changes loosen the city-proposed rules to allow taller, denser residential development, while removing requirements for developers to provide more space for new jobs, thereby ensuring mixed, not bedroom, communities in close proximity to transit. It also deletes measures the city introduced to “to ensure development does not outpace infrastructure.”

The province’s revisions were provided to the city late Wednesday without consultation and little explanation beyond the need, Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said, to provide more housing. The changes also reduce sunlight protection for public spaces, including both sidewalks and parks, Lintern’s memos say.

Instead of the city’s version, which required that no net new shadow be cast by the proposed building, the province’s changes say that only “adequate” sunlight is now required.

Details in the plans both on how far back buildings must be set from public streets to ensure neighbourhoods are more walkable and on other minimum design requirements were replaced with “general direction,” the memos say.

Minimum size requirements for larger two- and three-bedroom residential units have been deleted altogether.

Lintern’s memo noted that, in both plans, the province removed certainty in the direction of city policy, providing instead simply “guidance.”

“For example, prescriptive words such as ‘will,’ ‘preserve’ and ‘ensure’ ” were “replaced with more permissive wording such as ‘may,’ ‘generally’ and ‘encourage’.”

Councillor Joe Cressy, who represents the booming Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York, called the extensive redrawing of the city’s plans an attack on Toronto.

“I cannot think of another example where a unilateral decision on a local, detailed secondary plan has been imposed by the provincial government in the manner it has here,” he said.

“I do not know how to stand in front of a public meeting on a development application and ensure them that I’m going to be able to protect the livability for them and their children in the future. I cannot say that anymore.”

Councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 12 Toronto-St. Paul’s), who represents the increasingly vertical Yonge-Eglinton area, said the changes will be devastating to local communities.

“The province has ripped the heart out of our community’s plan for complete neighbourhoods with affordable housing, parks, jobs, childcare and necessary infrastructure,” Matlow said. “By removing requirements for sunlight, skyviews, and even windows in bedrooms, Doug Ford is planning for developers’ profits, not residents’ needs.”

Here are more of the changes highlighted in Lintern’s memos:

  • In both plans, changes “encourage bigger buildings in proximity to transit, irrespective of local context,” and require the city to accommodate higher density around transit stations
  • Both plans remove the requirement that up to 25 per cent of a development area be restricted to non-residential uses, which was, the memo says, to “ensure there was sufficient space to accommodate long-term employment growth”
  • Both plans delete specific requirements about building setbacks aimed at creating wider, more walkable public realm space in places such as the north side of Eglinton Ave., between Mt. Pleasant Ave. and Yonge St., and in the King-Spadina area
  • The revised downtown plan removes the requirement to provide a childcare facility when possible, and, in both the downtown and midtown plans, removes the requirement existing on-site community services be replaced
  • The midtown plan removes the limits on the number of tall buildings and strips all maximum building heights set out under the city’s plan, in several cases doubling the desirable heights
  • The midtown plan removes schools from the list of infrastructure the city’s policies said were needed so that they were not overburdened by development.

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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