Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) bypass city planning

Only about two weeks ago, FoNTRA expressed to you its serious concerns about the current use of Minister’s Zoning Orders (“MZOs”) but has received no response to its reasoned arguments. FoNTRA is, therefore, more than surprised and disappointed to learn that, in the meantime, you have issued new MZOs for three sites in the Distillery District of downtown Toronto – without any public consultation, without any involvement of the City Planning Department, without securing any community benefits to support an adequate infrastructure, and without even any notification of local politicians.

Notwithstanding some ingenuous views voiced in the local media – see, for example, Alex Bozikovic in The Globe and Mail of 28 October 2020 – that is no way to run a democratic and intelligent planning system. Just because a move is legal does not make it ethical or fair. In the earlier letter, FoNTRA has outlined in some detail the evolution of MZOs, as intended by successive governments of all political stripes on the advice of several expert panels.

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Falconer Hall heritage designation

At the September 29 meeting of the Toronto Preservation Board (Board), FoNTRA as well as many other organizations and individuals, objected to how Falconer Hall was proposed to be included in a proposed development, the subject of TE19.2. Our objections primarily related to the large scale of the proposal for the location on Queens Park The development as proposed has a significantly larger scale than other institutional buildings on Queen’s Park. In addition, it displays a profound lack of sensitivity to the significance of the site as a cultural heritage landscape.

The Board in its decision recommended that City Council state its intention to designate Falconer Hall and in addition recommended that: “City Council request the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to defer action on the alterations proposed in the report until a comprehensive study of the Queen’s Park cultural heritage landscape is complete.” FoNTRA agrees with the Board that the proposed development should not be approved unless and until it is shown to be acceptable following the study.

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Amendment 1 to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2019

On 29 January 2019, FoNTRA submitted the attached brief commenting on the Proposed Amendment 1 to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2017. Four members of FoNTRA’s Steering Committee also attended your Ministry’s Toronto Regional Round- table on Proposed Changes to Growth Plan on 13 February 2019, which you chaired. Un- fortunately, when the new Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2019 came into effect on 16 May 2019, FoNTRA noted that few, if any, of its proposals had found their way into the new policy framework.

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TLAB Chair’s 2019 Annual Report

We appreciate the comprehensive review and report by Ian Lord, TLAB Chair. However we feel that while the report raises various matters related to the ongoing operation of the TLAB, it fails to look deeper to the workload generative issues that lie behind some of the issues raised.

Residents play a key role in the operation of the TLAB and need it to operate in a way that is fair to them. TLAB operates largely without input from residents. TLAB business meetings have been established but these are largely ineffective as mechanisms to provide input from residents. Procedure and rules continue to be added to the processes without effective input from residents. (See attached) Given that the appeal process is important to residents as it greatly affects their neighbourhoods, we play close attention to how TLAB is operating and see how it is unfair to residents.

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Committee of Adjustment Virtual Hearings prompts concerns from Residents Associations

As you know, we supported virtual hearings for applications based upon your commitment that these hearings would be used for applications with (truly) minor variances. We have been increasingly concerned that complex applications with many variances, and multiple community objections are being heard in virtual hearings. In addition:

  • the revised timeframes limit the opportunity for comments to be submitted both in writing and orally;
  • written comments are not being posted in time for them to be part of the Committee members deliberations;
  • participants who registered to speak to the Committee are not being allowed in/heard from;
  • participant’s objections are being disregarded by the Committee of Adjustment; and
  • members of the Committee are not acquainted with the tests and/or overtly deny the tests as laid out in the Planning Act and in the public notice.

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TLAB: improving resident participation in new policy initiatives

The agenda for the meeting included a couple of new initiatives: Draft Practice Direction 6: Expert Witnesses, and Evaluation Form). We were pleased that the Chair was willing to allow enough time to hear from residents’ representatives as well as to allow for a fulsome discussion among some Members. However in the end we feel that a multi-step approach to developing and approving such policies is required in order to achieve the best results. We suggest that, at a minimum, an initiative should go through two readings, with an initial meeting to present a proposal and gather stakeholder input, followed by a second meeting to present and receive input to the TLAB on a revised proposal. We suggest the Board might consider organizing the first meeting with mixed stakeholders so that there is an opportunity for enhanced understanding, perhaps with independent facilitation.

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Proposed Regulatory Matters Pertaining to Community Benefits Authority under the Provincial Acts

Hon. Stephen ClarkMinistry of Municipal Affairs and Housing 17th Floor, 777 Bay St.Toronto, ON, M5G 2E5 RE: ERO Number 019-1406: Proposed regulatory matters pertaining to community benefits authority under the Planning Act, the Development Charges Act, and the Building Code Act Dear Minister Clark, This is to provide a response that can only be consideredas …

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Residential Construction as an Essential Workplace and Override of City Noise By-Law

We appreciate that these are difficult times and that serious actions are required by your government to protect public health and safety. However we were taken by surprise with two recent actions regarding construction activity that your government has taken, despite the extensive restrictions affecting many other sectors to reduce the impact and the spread of the COVID 19:

  • To declare residential construction sites as essential services, and therefore to remain open as workplaces, and
  • To override the City of Toronto and its municipal noise by-law from April, 7, 2020 to October 7, 2021 (Ontario regulation 130/20).

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City of Toronto Survey of Neighbourhood Housing Needs and Growth

As you are aware the above noted survey has been (or was intended to be) distributed to all resident associations registered with the City. While we appreciate the attention to the views of residents of neighbourhoods, through their resident associations, we are hearing from our members of a number of serious operational concerns with the survey, as well as fundamental concerns about the whole initiative.

A number of active residents associations did not receive the survey when it was first sent out. Some of them received the link forwarded from other organizations such as FoNTRA, and likely several never did receive the survey, or received it very late, and did not have time by the deadline (March 17) to complete it.

Several RAs found that they were either unable to open the survey, or received a message that the organization had already completed the survey. The latter problem has led to the concern that, in some cases, individuals who may or may not represent the RA have completed the survey.

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2020 City of Toronto Budget

FoNTRA understands the importance of a vital and active planning function to the longterm health of the whole city including thriving and complete communities. City Planning Division activities basically consist of two streams: undertaking planning studies, and creating plans; and managing development applications. Conducting pro-active planning activities such as Avenue Studies, Secondary Plans, Zoning By-law Updates, Heritage Conservation District (HCD) Studies, Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments (CHRA) and neighbourhood-specific Design Guidelines are vitally important. The underlying principle is that the Study Program is critical in order to strengthen the position of the City in dealing with development applications. Unfortunately the waiting lists for studies and plans are long, and getting longer.

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City Tree Canopy Study

We are the collective voice for neighbourhood associations in North Toronto and North York and have many concerns about the ongoing health and sustainability of our tree canopy. We are writing to voice our support of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee recommendations.

Specifically, we support: using the findings in the 2018 Tree Canopy Study to inform ongoing programming; to increase tree planting and maintenance on private land; to increase the tree canopy to 40%; to facilitate plans to enhance the tree canopy in identified neighbourhoods that have experienced significant losses; and to facilitate the enforcement of tree protection.

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Construction Projects Right-of-way Occupancy

The Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations (FoNTRA) strongly supports the recommendation of the Infrastructure and Environment Committee to request the General Manager, Transportation Services, in consultation with the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning to prepare a report on implementing a new right-of-way occupancy permit policy that defaults to a denial of requests, except when no other options are available.

In the event no other options are available and closure of the right-of-way adversely impacts the public use of the right-of-way, FoNTRA supports requiring that a percentage of the additional Gross Floor Area achieved by the developer, as a result of City right-of-way use for construction, is to be provided for public amenities, such affordable housing, childcare, or seniors’ services.

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City Planning Division – Study Work Program

In order to assess part of the Study Work Program we have extracted and collated the Heritage Conservation studies (HCD studies and plans, CHRAs and other studies) by category i.e. 2020 Forecast, Hearings, Active beyond 2020 and On Hold (see attached). For
example two projects from North York, Lawrence Park West HCD and Leaside CHRA, which were authorized in 2014, are shown as “On Hold” (see attachment).

The development of secondary plans that take transportation and other required infrastructure needs into account along with the availability of parkland, schools, social service requirements, heritage studies, Zoning Reviews and neighbourhood-specific Design
Guidelines are critical. It is important to get ahead of the development applications with completed plans, as is being demonstrated in Midtown (OPA 405) and Downtown (OPA406). While the 2020 Staff Recommended Budget includes small staffing and capital funding increase for certain studies, the Division still lacks the resources to develop and update any
but the most critical Secondary plans. Planning for the City’s future – for the population and
jobs growth that is expected – necessarily suffers. And the lack of updated Secondary plans
with clear population targets/densities and development guidelines necessarily means that
too many planning decisions are left to be determined on an ad hoc basis by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

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Special Committee on Governance Summary of Findings

This is to provide our comments on the report and recommendations arising from the Special Committee on Governance (Committee) work relative to its mandate to consider the impacts on the City’s governance structure and processes arising from the reduction in the size of Council, and make recommendations to City Council on any further changes to its governance structure.

It reminds one of a WWII slogan…”Keep calm and carry on” i.e., that in general, things are fine, and there may be some tweaking required. On the contrary it is our impression that (1) the pressure on councillors, particularly in the central south/north corridor is intense, and unsustainable, and (2) the level and quality of discussion has declined in Standing Committees and in City Council due to the reduced number of Members, as Members are unable to cope with the range and complexity of the agendas that they are being asked to weigh in on. At this stage, it is impossible to know whether there are longer term implications of this concern.

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Toronto-Ontario Transit Update

We strongly support the cancellation of the upload of the TTC ownership to the province and in principle are in favour of a more ambitious Ontario Relief Line that extends all the way north to Eglinton and west to the Exhibition GO station. This expanded line will provide additional high density neighbourhoods with high speed transit and take pressure off the existing Yonge and Bloor-Danforth subway lines.

The Ontario Line is still at a conceptual stage, both in terms of route and transit technology. This poses a significant risk of delay beyond the alternate City Relief Line completion date. A relief line component of any Ontario Line Plan must be fast tracked. The Yonge and Bloor-Danforth lines are already heavily congested. And ridership demand for both lines is expected to continue to grow significantly.

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End to End Review of the Development Review Process

The staff report describes the results of a consultant lead process to re-engineer the Development Review Process. The report references the need to hire staff to implement the Review’s recommendations over a number of years. In the end, the staff report merely recommends that the report be received.

For the record, FoNTRA has, over several years, been engaged in discussing concerns about the current processes with City Planning staff and earlier this year submitted a proposal for an End to End Review focused on Committee of Adjustment and LPAT, which are part of the Development Review Process that is much in need of review (see Attachment).

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Proposed regulations pertaining to the community benefits authority

We are very concerned that the new tools proposed under the Community Benefits Charge Authority (CBCA) will not be adequate to provide for both hard infrastructure and the community facilities and parkland that will be needed to support complete communities and make new development liveable for people and families.

The Minister has stated that the new regulations should not result in municipalities having to make up any cost shortfalls. However, until the regulations are fully developed, it is not possible to assess the full impact of the changes to the Development Charges Act or the adequacy of the Community Benefits Charge Authority, and to verify the statement that the proposed regulation changes will be revenue neutral.

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“Minor” Residential Planning and Development Decision-Making in Toronto

This report outlines issues related to the Toronto Zoning By-law 569-2013 and the Toronto Committee of Adjustment’s handling of severances and minor variances related to residential land use planning and development.

City Planning and Toronto Building are both involved, but, rather than operate sequentially, they interlock:

  • Zoning By-law development and management is the responsibility of City Planning
  • Management of the Committee of Adjustment is the responsibility of City Planning
  • Intake, Review and Acceptance of Committee of Adjustment applications, and Zoning Examination Reviews (by-law administration) are the responsibility of Toronto Building.

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