Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods
City Hall, East Tower
100 Queen Street W., 12th Floor
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
Attention: Melanie Melnyk and Philip Parker
RE: EHON Multiplex Study: Draft Official Plan Amendment
Dear Melanie and Philip,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the Multiplex Study: Draft Official Plan Amendment (OPA) released for consultation May 4, 2022, in the context of FoNTRA’s general long-standing aims and vision of improving planning processes and city building outcomes.
The EHON initiatives represent a significant rethinking of the built form and density of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods have been central to Toronto’s identity (“The City of Neighbourhoods”) and it is critical that significant changes to planning policies for Neighbourhoods be carefully planned and implemented.
In response to City Planning’s request for comments, we have provided detailed analysis of the draft OPA, including several recommendations (see Attachment 1). In addition, a number of questions have arisen that require clarification and further discussion. We acknowledge that our analysis and comments have benefitted from the advice of Terry Mills (ARRIS Strategy) (see Attachment 2): In addition, we have made several suggestions below, both substantive, and process-wise, as to how to proceed.
Where to from here? Multiplexes next steps
When the EHON concept was first introduced, FoNTRA supported the intensification of neighbourhoods but stressed that consideration had to be given to different types of neighbourhoods and that people living in these neighbourhoods should be given an opportunity to advise as to how they can be changed. Neighbourhoods change over time, with changes to occupancy – single family houses have been divided into apartments, families have been replaced by couples or singles, and in the former City of Toronto with adding new building types, such as low-rise apartment buildings to duplexes.
The City provided a draft OPA for Multiplexes but no proposals for zoning changes, which are critical to making the needed intensification happen in acceptable ways.
City Planning has requested comments on the draft Multiplex OPA by May 31. However final reports on the OPA and accompanying zoning bylaw changes are deferred to 2023.
The deferral of consideration of the Multiplex OPA to 2023 provides an opportunity to re-assess the Multiplex program, and the approach to program development utilized by the City.
Multiplexes as a Building type in Neighbourhoods
The greater the height, massing, scale and density, the greater the need for such developments to establish a harmonious fit with an existing neighbourhood’s physical character.
We believe that neighbourhood compatibility standards should NOT be abandoned, as they are important benchmarks that signify – “beyond these limits additional care is required to modulate a multiplexes’ composition.” This can be accomplished by means such as:
- appreciating a neighbourhood’s existing built form vocabulary
- carrying on a streetscape’s rhythms, such as the established eaves line
- working with forms and features, materials, and colours consistent with the local contextual palette
- protecting, maintaining and improving the neighbourhood’s tree canopy
- establishing appropriate landscaped open space within the site including its curtilage; and above all…
- avoiding solutions that fail to respect and reinforce the character of the neighbourhood.
These are fundamentals of good planning that are embedded in the City’s vision, its implementing standards, and the maintenance of a public approval process – after all, neighbours new and old have a vested interest in a neighbourhood’s future outcome.
Here are some of the issues to be considered:
- How can “character” of different types of neighbourhoods change to accommodate increased density?
- What are the different options for multiplexes in existing or new buildings?
- Use FSI or building envelopes or both?
Specifically, we suggest that consideration be given to separating the multiplex initiative into two separate steps, each with a separate OPA and zoning by-law:
- allow existing single-family houses to be subdivided internally “as of right” into multiple apartment units (the number of units depending on the size and/or number of storeys of the house-form building), with no change in existing zoning restrictions governing the height and size of such buildings
- evaluate other changes to the zoning by-law that would allow greater height and density as of right for newly constructed multiplexes in different types of residential neighbourhoods.
The advantage of a two-step approach is that the first could be done quickly with- out affecting neighbourhood built form character, since the only change in the zoning by-law would be to allow multiple units within currently permitted house-form buildings. (There would need to be some restrictions to avoid this becoming a back-door route to rooming houses, such as requiring kitchen facilities and a bathroom in each unit).
This first step would respond to (and hopefully reduce) some of the pressure being exerted for wholesale changes in residential zoning. It would also hopefully allow City Planning more time to consult with citizens on potential changes that would affect neighbourhood character, as proposed in the current draft OPA for consultation.
Multiplexes Consultation Process
While there has been significant effort by the City to consult with the public on the introduction of multiplexes it clearly has not been adequate. The consultation approach has been to offer a presentation and a time for questions and comments but without lacking a comprehensive discussion, and possible development of better solutions?
Accordingly, FoNTRA recommends that City Planning:
- Establish neighbourhood working groups from different types of neighbourhoods to review City Planning proposals (OPA, zoning and other types of regulations) as to how they would affect their neighbourhoods.
- Establish an “expert panel” (comprising planners, architects, urban designers, heritage experts) to review proposals to date and recommend needed new directions.
Finally, further to the comments on the draft OPA and issues arising from consultations we are reminded of Councillor Filion’s comments in a May 2022 ward news bulletin on the Multiplex Study Program:
“As a member of the Planning Committee, I was involved in requiring new housing to reflect the “prevailing” character of the surrounding neighbourhood. Only last week did I learn that staff have proposed turning that upside down, nullifying wording that preserves the existing character by adding the option to reflect the “planned” multiplex character. On every local street”.
Cc: Gregg Lintern, Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning Division
Kerri Voumvakis, Director, Strategic Initiatives, City Planning,
Directors, Community Planning, City Planning Division,
Attachment 1: FoNTRA Comments on EHON Multiplex Study: Draft Official Plan Amendment
- Multiplex Policy Proposal is Incomplete – where is the Draft Zoning Bylaw Amendment?
The draft Official Plan Amendment (OPA) has been brought forward without the accompanying Zoning Bylaw Amendment ZBA). The OPA provides the policy direction while the ZBA directs implementation. The Multiplex proposal simply cannot be understood and its implications assessed without the accompanying ZBA. Approval of the OPA alone is a recipe for confusion – and bad planning outcomes.
Per EHON Update #7 we now understand that the OPA has been deferred and will be brought forward together with the ZBA in early 2023. We strongly support the decision to consider these documents together.
- Should Multiplexes Be Allowed as-of-right?
The draft OPA proposes that Multiplexes be allowed “as of right” in Neighbourhoods across the City – an extremely significant change! But would all neighbourhoods be affected in the same way?
The City’s neighbourhoods may be divided into two basic types, based on their developmental history – those built Pre-WWII preceded the establishment of zoning by- law regulation (R Zone, RM Zone, RD Zone, RS Zone, RT Zone came later) and those built Post WWII following establishment of zoning regulation in which multiplexes are not allowed, (RD) or in restricted zones (RM). As a result of the different planning regimes existing when the neighbourhoods were developed, their physical character differs. This is not something that should be erased without proper planning consideration. “As of right” does not provide this – good planning requires that zoning bylaw changes should be introduced on the basis of area planning – that takes into account neighbourhood characteristics – not “one size fits all” policy permissions.
- Specific Issues arising from the Draft Multiplex OPA
3.1 Multiplex definition
“a) For the purposes of this Site and Area Specific Policy, a “multiplex” refers to a duplex, triplex, or fourplex, as defined by zoning by-law 569-2013”.
On the contrary it appears to us that the term “multiplex” is currently undefined in bylaw 569- 2013, and if that is confirmed, therefore needs to be addressed.
3.2 OP Neighbourhoods Section 4.1.5
3.2.1 Proposed Elimination of Built Form and Density Criteria (OP Policy 4.1.5)
Development Criteria in Official Plan Policy 4.1.5 is a cornerstone directive to defining the City’s intentions for Neighbourhoods. The draft proposed deletions of (c) and (e) eliminate BOTH built form and density, and building type criteria. It is not acceptable to remove built form (heights, massing, scale) and density criteria. Furthermore we do not believe it is necessary to permit Multiplexes in Neighbourhoods across the City.
Accordingly, FoNTRA recommends that the following revised changes allow Multiplexes in all Neighbourhoods while mitigating negative impacts on neighbourhood character
Development in established Neighbourhoods will respect and reinforce the existing physical character of each geographic neighbourhood, including in particular:
- patterns of streets, blocks and lanes, parks and public building sites;
- prevailing size and configuration of lots;
- prevailing heights, massing, scale, density
and dwelling typeof nearby residential properties; prevailing building type(s);
- prevailing location, design and elevations relative to the grade of driveways and garages;
- prevailing setbacks of buildings from the street or streets;
- prevailing patterns of rear and side yard setbacks and landscaped open space;
- continuation of special landscape or built-form features that contribute to the unique physical character of the geographic neighbourhood; and
- conservation of heritage buildings, structures and landscapes.
3.2.2. Proposed deletion of reference to density
Density, usually expressed as Floor Space Index (FSI), has always been a key factor in guiding compatible development in the older parts of the City of Toronto since the inception of the comprehensive zoning by-law in the early 1950s. Attempts were made by planning staff in 2009, as part of the process to harmonize the 43 then existing zoning by-laws following amalgamation, to replace density controls across the entire city with building envelope controls used in the former suburban townships with their predominant single-family-detached subdivisions. City Council rejected that approach and continued with maintaining the different development control approaches that had guided development in the various parts of the city. Some recent staff presentations have suggested that there may be new efforts to eliminate FSI-controls – an approach that is used under different names in most large jurisdictions and is considered far superior when dealing with more than one building type in the same zone. Below is an excerpt from a Staff Report of March 27, 2009, recommending an approach that was ultimately rejected.
3.2.3 Lot Coverage versus Floor Space Index
Lot coverage together with setbacks and height restrictions combine to control the bulk or mass of a building. Lot coverage is widely used throughout Ontario on lots subdivided for the development of grade related housing such as singles, semis, and townhouses. Floor space index (FSI) is used usually in association with multi-storey residential and commercial buildings. The FSI factor allows a calculation of the overall density which is used primarily for infrastructure planning purposes, that is, impacts on existing infrastructure and planning for new infrastructure improvements. The density factor alone cannot directly regulate the bulk and mass of a residential building. Setbacks and height limits are still required for that purpose.
The former City of Toronto’s zoning by-law relies almost entirely on an FSI factor in its low-rise residential zones exclusively, together with setbacks and height limits, rather than employing a lot coverage limit. The other pre-amalgamation zoning by-laws were more reliant on lot coverage, with setbacks and height limits.
Furthermore, Section 4.1.8 requires “Zoning by-laws will contain numerical site standards for matters such as building type and height, density, lot sizes, lot depths, lot frontages, parking, building setbacks from lot lines, landscaped open space and any other performance standards to ensure that new development will be compatible with the physical character of established residential Neighbourhoods.”
As such the proposed OPA is inconsistent with other parts of the Neighbourhoods section of the Official Plan.
Accordingly, FoNTRA objects not only to the deletion of Section 4.1.5 c) and e) but, particularly, also to the proposed deletion of density (FSI) controls.
3.3 Proposed Policy to have the SASP override a Secondary Plan:
The draft Multiplex OP states “Where there is a conflict between this Site and Area Specific Policy xxx and either a Secondary Plan or another Site and Area Specific Policy in Chapter 7, this Site and Area Specific Policy will prevail.“
The Planning Act considers a Secondary Plan as “a part of an official plan, added by way of an amendment, that contains policies and land use designations that apply to multiple contiguous parcels of land, but not an entire municipality, and that provides more detailed land use policy direction in respect of those parcels than was provided before the amendment.”
Toronto’s Official Plan sees the role of Secondary Plan policies to“adapt and implement the objectives, policies, land use designations and overall planning approach of the Official Plan to fit local contexts and are adopted as amendments to the Official Plan.” Secondary Plans provide more detailed land use policy direction than the Official Plan to fit the local context while the proposed Multiplex OPA establishes a general land use policy without consideration of any local contexts. It would be, therefore, a complete reversal of the planning regime adopted in Ontario to have this proposed SASP prevail over any Secondary Plan.
Accordingly, FoNTRA objects to this proposed Policy that attempts to simply dispatch proper democratic planning process.
3.4 Relationship between the OPA and Zoning Bylaw Standards
The Draft Multiplex OPA states:
“The sidebar found on Page 4-5 of the Official Plan speaks about prevailing building types and lot patterns in Neighbourhoods. The text of that sidebar currently says that if an existing zoning by-law permits only single detached dwellings, then the Plan’s policies are to be interpreted to allow only single detached dwellings.
However, approximately two-thirds of the city’s Neighbourhoods currently have this zoning, which would not allow multiplexes to be built. Until the City is able to amend the zoning to permit multiplexes in all Residential zones, in order to meet the goal of expanding housing options, that text is proposed to be deleted”.
As regards the matter of “until”… To reinstate this sidebar text after incorporating multiplexes into the zoning by-law effective across the city would in fact be redundant.
Terry Mills, our planning advisor states in his report (attached) that: “considering that this OPA would introduce a most significant change affecting all Neighbourhoods throughout the city, there is all the more reason to ensure that the Multiplex initiative is proven to be fit-to-purpose prior to its adoption, as otherwise in my opinion, it will result in dubious and contentious outcomes.”
- Issues arising from Consultations requiring Clarification
4.1 Scale and massing of multiplexes
The EHON multiplex presentations at public consultations have emphasized that multiplexes will fit into the existing neighbourhood typology. As such, the multiplex images shown at the consultations show 2 and 3 storey buildings no higher than 10 metres, the draft OPA states “In Neighbourhoods, it is intended that multiplexes will continue to be built to the same general scale and zoning standards (as) for low-rise buildings.
However, materials used in recent public consultations have introduced the concept of 4 storey multiplexes.
This illustrates both of the concerns noted earlier:
- The necessity for the Draft ZBA to be available at the same time as the OPA.
- The implication for the introduction of much larger multiplexes into a neighbourhood, potentially not fitting the neighbourhood character, if permitted “as of right”. It is not that they cannot ever fit but they need to be done in a planned manner, perhaps, close to a Major Street for example, not at the centre of a subdivision.
4.2 Zoning definitions and meaning
There is confusion about planning definitions and methodologies.
- The terms ‘building envelope’ and ‘permitted envelopes’ have been used in the briefing presentations. The term ‘permitted zoning envelope’ is used in the proposed OPA (see page 3). Definitions are required for these terms as they are not part of our current zoning methodologies that include FSI or coverage/storey regulations.
- As discussed above there appears to be an intent to eliminate FSI in the zoning bylaw? If so this should be made clear and the implications explained.
- The terms ‘building type’ and ‘dwelling types’ have specific different meanings in the Official Plan and the zoning bylaws. These terms are used interchangeability in the interim report and briefing documents. Definitions are required here.
- Preservation of Green Space and Protection of Private Trees – sections (v) and (vi)
Staff reports on the EHON initiatives emphasize the importance of protecting the tree canopy, permeable surfaces and tree growing space. Urban Forestry identifies the important role of private yards that provide canopy trees and garden and pervious space for tree planting that is critical to meeting the City’s Net Zero goals. However, City reports also show that since 1999 impervious surfaces are increasingly presenting problems for tree planting space, loss of the environmental benefits of trees and loss& of tree leaf area. (See 2018 Tree Canopy Study& below)
Private trees make up over half of the City’s tree canopy and provide most of the environmental benefits and ecosystem services for Toronto and contribute significantly to making our communities livable EHON initiatives place preservation of private green spaces and trees at risk. A recent Report to the City’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee (May 25, 2022) noted “City Council must work to ensure that zoning by-laws allow for maximum tree canopy expansion to reach the target of expanding tree canopy to 40 percent.” 1
The recommendation of the same report calls for:
“report back to a future meeting of Infrastructure and Environment Committee regarding potential strategies to protect and enhance the City’s tree canopy and growing space, while also supporting infill housing growth in the City’s Neighbourhoods,” and that the report is returned before City Council provides further guidance on Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods.
We note that section (vi) of the draft Multiplex Official Plan Amendment uses “should” – which represents weak language if tree protection is the intent. Use of “will” or “must” would ensure much stronger tree protection. As such, the draft Multiplex OPA offers inadequate protection for trees and permeable growing space.
Accordingly, FoNTRA recommends that the language of the OPA be strengthened in regard to tree protection and that the Multiplex OP Amendments and Zoning Bylaw standards be submitted to and considered by the Infrastructure and Environment Committee, in addition to Planning and Housing Committees, prior to going to City Council for approval.
- Contribution to meeting the City’s Housing Goals
The specific goals for the number of housing units to be added are not described. The EHON Interim Report of November 10, 2021 provides some useful information on page 19.
There were approximately 100 multiplex applications for new builds at the Committee of Adjustment over a 10 year period. This is about 10 buildings per year for 30% of neighbourhoods where multiplexes are permitted. The data suggests that this program might contribute an additional 20 buildings per year if permissions were extended to RD and other zoning categories.
It appears that this initiative will provide only a small contribution to the City wide housing stock. By comparison, new mid-rise apartment developments in Midtown typically each grow the housing stock by about 150 to 200 apartment units.
- Property Owners’ Right to Know
While the EHON promise is “gentle intensification,” the proposed changes may be substantial if adopted in the form currently proposed. Depending on the zoning standards there may be significant adverse impacts in neighbourhoods across the City.
We believe that:
- The multiple property owners who would have their properties rezoned by the City have a right to be properly informed about this initiative (i.e., beyond a newspaper ad written in legalese after the proposals have been approved by City Council – as was the case with Laneway Suites and Garden Suites).
- The number of residents attending city’s consultation has been an insignificant percentage of those living in the Neighbourhoods (“Yellow Belt”)
- The digital literacy skills of the persons who have participated in the consultation process may be high, but according to the organization ABC Internet Matters, 30 percent of older Canadians are not using the internet.
- We believe that the City has failed to properly inform resident associations. The City Clerk maintains a list of RAs and such registered RAs have never been sent an invitation or information email about the Multiplex initiatives.
Accordingly, FONTRA recommends that the City distribute (via postal walk) a clear language bulletin explaining the intent of the EHON initiatives.
ARRIS Strategy Studio
801-101 Roehampton Ave.
Toronto, ON M4P 2WP
May 23, 2022