By Al Ruggero
Have you ever wondered why some buildings are where they are and not elsewhere?
If you live in an exclusive residential community, you can reasonably assume that no one would tear down your neighbours’ homes to build a chemical recycling plant. The legal structures governing land use in the city are a series of planning documents, provincial and city policies, and many carry names like Official Plan, Amendments and can have final bearing on zoning and by-laws. It is mainly zoning (and some neighbourly common sense) that precludes your neighbours from converting their properties into a noxious enterprise. No doubt you would have some well-placed sensitivity to that happening.
So why then would developers and builders want to build homes in non-residential areas surrounded by heavy industry? Common sense should prevail, but when it doesn’t, zoning restrictions come into play. Going forward, the City of Toronto is planning to tighten zoning restrictions as they apply to Employment Areas under the City’s Official Plan.
Toronto’s Official Plan has a dual purpose. First, it establishes a framework for the matrix of existing zoning areas as a road map for land use. Equally important, this planning document sets out a long-term vision encompassing the values and policies to guide decisions on development. The city is in the midst of a process to review its Official Plan, looking at how our city grows from today to the year 2051. The process, which is provincially mandated, is for the city to address its challenges in the years ahead - including the many disparities in social equity - to become a more inclusive, welcoming and healthier city. The name chosen for the review process is Our Plan Toronto.
It provides an “..opportunity to shape our city beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Plan Toronto will help support the recovery and rebuild of our communities, organizations and businesses.” (from Our Plan Toronto- Your Guide)
As the Official Plan review sets out a timeline, it forecasts the need to accommodate an additional 700,000 people by the year 2051. Moreover, to create resilience and sustainable growth, the city must also accommodate 450,000 more jobs. What is crucial is how and where this is located. Over the years, there has been an erosion of land previously designated for employment-related purposes. Currently, only 13 percent of Toronto’s land use is designated for employment, prompting a response from the province and the city to provide measures to protect and promote the existing employment zones. Some of these tools involve strengthening our zoning designations and better transportation planning, which consists of studying our current transportation networks to look at solutions for greater efficiencies and compatible road uses.
In December 2013, the city approved the Official Plan Amendment 231 as part of a five year review for employment lands affirming that sensitive uses permissions be removed from lands designated Employment Areas. Phase 2 of that process would bring all lands designated for Employment in the Official Plan into conformity with city-wide zoning by-law (By-law 569-2013) and conformity with OPA 231. Previously, when the city first amalgamated in 1998, it allowed for patchwork zoning in the employment areas from the various constituent municipalities that became the City of Toronto. By 2013, the need for conformity became apparent as non-employment-related land use increased.
Phase 1 recommendations from the final report of the Zoning Conformity for Official Plan Employment Areas is under consideration before City of Toronto’s Planning and Housing Committee, who are to meet on September 21. While the recommendations include several site-specific exemptions that would apply to some existing non-conforming uses, the most significant changes of the zoning proposal would remove or delete certain land uses from Employment - Industrial zoning designations. These include hotels, places of worship, clubs, libraries, community centres, art galleries, museums, recreation uses, places of assembly, performing arts studio and municipal shelters.
The implications for property and business owners in the employment districts are wide-ranging and difficult to fully ascertain. While restrictions in some cases are justifiable given the shortage of existing employment land use, there appears to be no mechanism to guarantee property owners that the potential spaces opened up over time for employment will be met with market demand. Very often, non-conforming uses are for spaces that do not readily meet the requirements for prospective enterprises. For instance, social clubs might be sub-letting large meeting rooms deemed redundant space by the business occupant. It appears that the amendments would remove needed flexibility in the commercial and industrial real-estate marketplace for both the building owner or the leaseholder.
Emery Village BIA encompasses one of Toronto’s largest designated Employment Areas. We have actively pursued studies and reports (including a recent Finch West Land Use Study), contributed numerous recommendations and supported policies in the best interest and the continued viability of our employment district. BIA employers account for over 28,000 jobs. Together with input from members, along with our continuous mobile security patrols, we continue to monitor and report on incidents and cases involving both by-law and property standards divisions of the city. Over the years of experience, we know the importance of needed changes to enforcement and compliance.
The BIA welcomes policies that encourage employment growth and sustainability and support healthy communities and social equity. We believe that process fairness is a concern to our employers. The process is far from completed with Phases 2 and 3 to yet unfold.
Contact Al Ruggero at the Emery Village BIA (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information and to provide your input.