Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) bypass city planning

Hon. Steve Clark, Minister
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing 777 Bay Street, 17th Floor
Toronto Ontario M5G 2E5

RE: Minister’s Zoning Orders in City of Toronto: 373 Front Street East and 90 Mill Street (Blocks 3, 4 and 7), 125 and 125R Mill Street (Block 20) and 153 to 185 Eastern Avenue (Blocks 17 and 26)

Dear Minister:

The Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations (“FoNTRA’) is an umbrella organization representing over 30 residents’ associations in central Toronto engaged in public policy debates on planning and development issues that directly affect our member organizations.

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.

You have been quoted as giving the need for speed in the approval of affordable housing units as underlying reason. If more speed is needed in Ontario’s statutory planning processes, then this should be achieved through carefully designed reforms, particularly, through amendments to the Planning Act – not through hastily conceived ad hoc interventions by dictate.

These three MZOs are also not needed. According to the City of Toronto’s recent Development Pipeline 2020 report, at the end of last year, there were 148,797 residential units approved but not yet built for various reasons – except red tape. In fact, since 1990 the City of Toronto has represented a third of all housing completions in the GTA according to CMHC.

FoNTRA has long advocated simplifying the statutory planning process that, in its view, relies excessively on privately-initiated, site-specific Official Plan Amendments that both undermine the validity of public policy and unduly lengthen the approval processes. In a letter on planning reform of 12 December 2016 to one of your predecessors, for example, FoNTRA noted the following:

The number of appeals going forward to the OMB is excessive and an important contributor to this excess – especially in Toronto – is this confusion of long-term planning with development control where the majority of OPAs are site-specific and treated like amendments to the zoning by-law. Most mature planning systems distinguish between planning tools that prescribe long-term strategic policies for guiding a municipality’s physical change in response to social, economic, and environmental needs and development control mechanisms that define detailed site-specific as-of-right development parameters within the umbrella of the municipal plan.

Both the planning substance and the planning process could be significantly strengthened with only minimal changes to the Planning Act, as follows:

  1. Official Plans should be required to provide density allocations in order to offer intelligent guidance for site-specific rezonings; and,
  2. privately-initiated amendments to the Official Plan should be prohibited in order to maintain the validity of public policy in between the mandatory global updates.

FoNTRA repeats its earlier request and, respectfully, asks the government to confine the use of MZOs to extraordinary situations arising from the pandemic and to abandon the widespread and undemocratic “enhanced” approach of backroom deals without notice, without public consultation, and without the right of appeal.

Sincerely Yours,

Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations

Geoff Kettel
Co-Chair, FoNTRA

Cathie Macdonald
Co-Chair, FoNTRA

cc: Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
Ms. Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Opposition
Hon. Steven Del Duca, Leader, Liberal Party
Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO)
Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI)
Mayor John Tory and Toronto City Council
Mr. Gregg Lintern, Chief Planner and Executive Director, City of Toronto
The Globe and Mail
Toronto Star
FoNTRA Members and Others