Proposed zoning has commercial property owners concerned

By Al Ruggero

The City of Toronto is proposing to change zoning by-law permissions within city Employment Areas that would remove currently permitted land uses deemed incompatible with major industrial-manufacturing operations. Some of these uses that would be removed include people-serving functions such as recreation and institutions, some retail and restaurants.

The Emery Village BIA sent notice to business members to alert them to the proposed changes and to invite their participation in determining what the future holds. Large numbers of Emery businesses would be impacted by the changes. Despite operations being allowed to continue, their future would be in question if they would need to seek city approvals for changes to their operations, structure or restart. Current legal non-conforming status would be allowed to continue as a one-time, grandfathered pass. Land use planning that supports and protects employment lands from certain types of intrusions can bolster economic activity and jobs. However, the BIA believes that this set of proposals to remove current uses such as day nurseries, colleges, institutions and human services, recreation, clubs, some restaurants and others from the General Employment Zone, would have the opposite impact with a net loss of jobs. It could also impact flexibility for businesses going forward and limit their ability to adapt after 18 months of uncertainty.

Along with Duke Heights BIA, Emery Village BIA has decided to express strong concerns that these amendments and restrictions are harmful, and need further study. It is also important that these amendments are tabled while other reviews are underway or in the pipeline. These include Our Plan Toronto, and Major Transit Station Areas, that eventually will include the Weston/Finch hub and the Finch transit corridor.

The province also has a say in directing the process, but the Emery Village BIA believes a more holistic and sustainable model has a better chance at success.

The Zoning Conformity project did not spring up overnight. Within OPA (Official Plan Amendments) 231, work on the Zoning Conformity for Official Plan Employment Areas amendments began in 2013. Some believe these proposals do not reflect the current economic realities under COVID-19, nor will they create conditions for job growth. They may induce more uncertainty, add to the interim job losses and create commercial property vacancies.

The City of Toronto’s employment districts also face competitive pressures from adjacent municipalities. And the implications for tax revenues whenever businesses move out are losses the city can ill afford.

On September 21, the City’s Planning and Housing Committee deferred the motion to a special meeting on October 18. The BIA hopes this will lead to an additional pause to allow for a robust impact study and amendments