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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered



  1. Very helpful – and the balance is very much appreciated.

  2. A few interesting comments I’ve received on social media:

    – MPP Rosario Marchese is concerned that the restriction on OMB action in a permit appeal is not as clear-cut as staff suggest: “If OMB ruling cites law, but then “interprets” it by ignoring it, very difficult to prove error in law”

    – Jessica Wilson of CORRA notes that planners aren’t consistent on what kind of area they think a DPS would apply to. Thinking about it further, my feeling is that it’s unlikely after all to be applied where major developments – tall towers – are going in, because they’re just too big to be something that pops up suddenly with little process or discussion. DPS might apply better to, for example, places where mid-rise development is happening or expected to happen. But there’s no way to really predict.

    – Wilson also notes that in DPS pilot areas, there were in fact developer appeals to the OMB right after the 45 day limit, and “somewhere it was observed that a “minor industry” quickly grew up around challenging whether applied criteria or imposed conditions were compatible with the OP or whatever.”

  3. This was a fascinating read on an issue I do not know enough about. Clearly Toronto needs to reform its planning system to better meet the redevelopment challenges it has; this seems like a good alternative. Though as you point out it might take years to roll out the time and cost saving once the first few critical regions have bylaws could be dramatic.

  4. Part of me worries that there’s nothing to stop the most well-organized, vocal members of some neighbourhoods from seizing control of the DPS process and using it to freeze densities and forms at their current level (even more so than they already are.) New as-of-right zoning does nothing if you don’t end up getting the ‘right’ to build anything except what’s already there. Anybody assuming that a DPS process (initiated by ‘neighbourhoods’) will result in broader permissions, is, I think, taking a long shot.

    I live in Scarborough, and even though there’s a couple of giant slab towers just down the street, any *new* housing that’s not a detached bungalow brings out an angry segment of the neighbours who are seemingly allergic to all change. And just by invoking ‘neighbourhood character’ and the status quo, new buildings above the existing zoning can be easily vetoed. Only the developers with patience and money can usually overcome these hurdles. (Hey, anybody ever wondered what happened to all those small homebuilding companies we used to have?)

    But why should the neighbours have this power, anyway? Now, things like shadowing and traffic and noise pollution are understandable grievances if they seriously, directly impact one’s enjoyment of one’s own home. But otherwise, why should people be prevented from building housing and workplaces for as many people as they want, on land that they own? What if the neighbours don’t like the colour I paint my garage door – or maybe they think I should have a paved yard instead of shrubs. Should there be meetings where the loudest complainers get to make rules on what my house must look like – because, after all, it’s “their neighbourhood”? Where’s the clear distinction between these “little things” of appearance and the “big things” of size and height and use?

    This DPS is described as “voluntary” – not imposed on any ‘community’ that doesn’t want it. But who defines that? I love growth, and mixed uses, and density – so any DPS that makes a permanent, appeal-proof limit on those things is an ‘imposition’ on me. ‘Community’ is a word that carries a lot of, frankly, unfounded assumptions. It seems usually to mean “those residents who show up to consultations and convince ‘expert’ staff that their preferences be made mandatory.” What about the people who don’t live there yet, but would like to? Or the people who live there, but cannot stay unless change happens? Or who can’t show up? Or whose preferences are not reflected by a self-identified ‘community majority’? What, in other terms, is so elite and wise about the denizens of the status quo?

    Dylan is right – the planning system in Toronto, as in many cities, is very broken. But I am skeptical that the DPS is any kind of solution.

  5. While I share the concern that Benjamin has, overall DPS feels like a big step to the right direction. In principle it is a much better process that the one we have today. It should be possible to avoid the scenario that Benjamin describes if the long term growth plan is used to guide the process of establishing the DPS zones.

  6. Benjamin, you have a point with groups saying “don’t do anything anywhere”.

    But the flip side is that developers buy a property with a bungalow on it, sever it, build two narrow tall houses, and sell at a profit. This is not as clear cut a case as my allowed to do what I want to my house, since the developer is in and out.

    I live in Long Branch, and this is happening on every street. Some of the new houses fit reasonably into the character of the neighbourhood, or at least to my aesthetic tastes. The generic stone-faced mansions that look like they should be in Brampton, but have been photoshopped to be half as wide to fit on the narrow lot, those I have problems with.

    I actually renovated my house and had to go to the Committe of Adjustments, since my lot was only 25′ wide originally with a detached cottage squeezed up against one property line. But I didn’t replace it with a generic stone veneered house, I managed to keep the front half, with an addition on the back.

  7. Well, developers do develop, and sometimes they make pretty obnoxious buildings. I live in a neighbourhood with mostly 1950s and 60s bungalows, plus a few tower blocks of similar vintage. A few of the bungalows have been torn down in recent years, and the replacements have been of the boxy faux-stucco and granite-veneer variety. I really dislike how they look. But I disagree that they should be restricted by reason of “neighbourhood character”. I think we would see much better redevelopment if the rules were, in fact, looser – so that landowners didn’t have to maximize their investment in land by kicking up big pompous stucco boxes, but could do something like three-storey townhomes, or a small apartment block on a few lots assembled together. There are a few of these in my neighbourhood as well (built on old industrial/commercial lots) and they’re quite nice. If developers could build something besides single family homes, I suspect they would (as they do downtown.)

    I object to most of the planning system in Toronto because, outside of a few areas, it seems to have halted the ‘succession’ process, whereby low-density buildings are gradually replaced with higher-density ones. One result of this is that the GTA sprawls out indefinitely. Another is that housing prices keep rising as the limited supply of houses close-in to the city become ever more expensive. I think Torontonians are not exposed to this process much because most of the city is ‘first-layer’ development – that is, it was farmland or forest before. But a city can’t freeze itself in time and decide that the ‘character’ of existing neighbourhoods needs to be permanently maintained. This is especially true with regards to mixed uses – my neighbourhood has one coffee shop, one grocery store, one pizza place, etc. Alternatives are a half-hour walk away (and I cannot drive.) The neighbourhood could support more commerce, but there’s nowhere zoned for it. Even as the population of the region grows by 100k a year, my neighbourhood is losing population, because elderly people are living alone in bungalows, because it’s not legal to run a sublet here. But if you try to change this, and it’s all ‘neighbourhood character must be preserved’.

    Yu: I understand that the DPS process might, *in principle*, not result in less housing growth. But it seems to me just as vulnerable to political capture and anti-growth factions as the current system, especially in the most expensive neighbourhoods. Does anyone seriously believe that a Rosedale DPS or a Lawrence Park DPS will include lots of as-of-right development areas, even though they’re adjacent to subway stations? I suspect that these neighbourhoods will use the DPS process to decide that no, actually, they’re perfect the way they are, and that all growth and demand can go somewhere else, preferably in Peel Region or Leslieville or something. It could be like the Beaches, where even a mid-rise condo is treated like the Coming of the End Times, regardless of ‘growth plans’. And then, after bylaw passage, there really will be no appealing to the OMB because of Places to Grow or adjacent owners. It’ll be stuck, indefinitely.

    Ed: I sympathize with the trial of dealing with the C. of A. It’s a bureaucratic vacuum from which many honest proposals never emerge. But I submit that the right to put an addition on your home is, ultimately, indistinguishable from a right to build a stupid grey Mississauga Mansionette. The aesthetic objections you raise could be raised against almost any change – or even just a perceived “lack of maintenance”. Suggestions that these problems of taste be resolved by neighbourhood consultation run into the same old problem: just because some people get together and vote on it, doesn’t mean they get to do what they like with my stuff. Lots of folks like a paved front yard – I think it looks like crap, and I’ve busted one up at a house I lived in. But if all the neighbours got together, and decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to put flowers in where concrete had been – should they be able to stop me? I don’t think so.

  8. I just got directed to this site; I hope people are still reading it.

    The Development Permit System is an interesting idea, and Lord know the system we have now in Toronto stinks.

    Perhaps we should be asking questions from a different point of view. For instance – what benefit is it to the inhabitants of a neighbourhood to see a developer move in with a big new project (and I use that term deliberately – they all look big to someone used to living with a two-storey house next door)? They get the following – old friends and neighbours move away; messy, noisy demolition; lots of established trees and greenery destroyed; months, years even, of the noise and disruption of the building process; the streets and traffic disrupted; the local landscape is now changed and usually not for the better – parts of the sky blotted out, big shadows cast where once there was sunshine; then a whole lot of strangers move in with all their business and cars and the traffic is much worse and there will be local lineups, and…. So tell me again why anyone living in an established neighbourhood should welcome development. In fact, I suspect no one does except the developer-predators who live by spoiling the neighbourhoods of others, and the politicians whose egos or fund chests are dependent on this process.

    Now, I am exaggerating, of course – I like development as much as anyone when it is away from me – but only to a point, because the development process does very little to benefit the locals, except perhaps by raising the prices of their houses so they can move away to somewhere unfamiliar, and then get pushed on again just as they have got used to their new homes.

    Perhaps an answer lies in compensation. The developer benefits greatly by buying property valued with a low density and gets to sell denser, high-valued property. It seems only fair that those close-by that he has annoyed and inconvenienced and subjected to a lower quality of life should get some compensatory benefit, in accordance with how close they are to the disturbance.

  9. The impact without compensation is exactly why people living in a neighbourhood have every incentive to try to prevent development – or at least, why there’s so few local defenders for most new development, since almost by definition, the people who will benefit from it (the new residents or workers in the new building) aren’t there yet.


    What you’re describing is (maybe) a thing that’s been talked about by some people as ‘tradeable rights’. Here’s one way it could work: existing zoning is turned into ‘rights’ – everybody gets to build up as high or as big as current zoning says they can; since they bought with this in mind, this is relatively fair. Then, individual property owners are allowed to ‘trade’ with each other for impacts that new development will cause – noise, air pollution, shadowing, road traffic, loss of street parking – effects that cross over property lines, essentially. So, if you want to build a very tall building, you would have to buy ‘shadow rights’ from the neighbours; if you wanted to open a late-night bar, you would have to buy ‘noise rights’ (or maybe just more soundproofing.)

    The benefit to a system like this is that it changes the choices. Under current zoning, neighbours don’t lose out on money because they prevented development – they would get nothing either way, or would get some minor “Section 37” benefits which are supposed only to go to neighbourhood amenities. With ‘tradeable rights’ everybody gets to keep what they have, but can weigh whether it’s worth it to them to miss out on compensation money they might get. And if you turn down development in your area, that money will go to someone else more willing. And of course, it’s less corruptible by political considerations, and is tied directly to the impacts that development imposes.

    I think a model like this would do a few things:
    1. More growth in richer neighbourhoods. Lots of people (with lots of money) want to live in Moore Park or the Kingsway, but the city’s plan currently identifies these areas as “stable”, so the incumbent homeowners keep the supply of housing fixed, and excess wealthier buyers go to affordable areas and bid up prices. More growth in wealthy areas should help avoid affordable neighbourhoods becoming suddenly expensive.
    2. Continue to keep very loud, very dirty uses separated from neighbours who don’t want it nearby – since it would be prohibitively expensive to compensate everybody.
    3. Making development in low-rise neighbourhoods a gradual, low-height process. If you drop a 30 storey tower in a rowhome neighbourhood, you’ll have a lot of folks to compensate. But a 4 storey six-plex would probably only have to pay the immediate neighbours.
    4. Give builders more choice, and help small builders compete. When, as now, only a few locations in the city are available for any development *at all*, of course the developers go for the absolute max height, and the biggest developers win the bids. (It’s like people desperately rushing for the last open seat in a game of musical chairs.) However, if the whole city is open to development on traded rights, it’s more possible to do small, context-sensitive developments.
    5. Letting people build and do things on their property (build a shed, run a small business in their garage, etc.) without jumping through bureaucratic hoops – as long as the impacts on the neighbours are negligible.

    The big question for this system, of course, is what impacts count for compensation purposes, and which don’t. (Like ‘neighbourhood character’? What is that, exactly? I’ve never seen a good definition.)

  10. It recently become apparent that the main advantage claimed for the DPS isn’t actually the case.

    Chief Planner Keesmaat (who unlike all previous Chief Planners, was not a City Planner prior to being hired into this important position, but who was rather hired from private practice—google ‘Who hired Jennifer Keesmaat’ ) has repeatedly claimed that, unlike existing area-based tools also capable of incorporating a community “vision”, developers cannot apply to amend an adopted DPS by-law on a site-specific basis. So, for example, Keesmaat said on the Feb 25 TVO Agenda, at 28:40, “You can’t appeal just one site. You can only appeal the whole thing”. This inability to appeal on a site-specific basis has been pitched as the “magic bullet” that is supposed to prevent developers coming in and subverting whatever area-based plan you’ve got in place.

    But it turns out to be false that applicants can’t appeal a DPS by-law on a site-specific basis. The Ontario Regulation 608/06 does not prevent this—as Lake-of-Bays Planner Stefan Szczerbak noted, they get site-specific amendments for their DPS by-law all the time. Joseph D’Abramo confirmed that the restriction is supposed to be part of the Toronto draft Official Plan Policies for Implementing a DPS in Toronto… but it turns out that these don’t forbid site-specific amendments, either—they just make it a bit harder for developers to do this. They have to do things like have an “area-based planning rationale’ (that’ll take them a lunch hour) and a “strategy for consultation’ (which is already required for any site-specific amendment of an area-based policy) and a couple of other hoops which developers will find it trivially easy to jump through.

    Moreover, top planning lawyer Dennis Wood of Wood Bull confirms that the Planning Act does not allow any restrictions of amendments… so even supposing the Toronto version of the DPS did impose real restrictions—which is doesn’t, really—they would be challenged in court as overly onerous and ultimately illegal by lights of the Planning Act.

    Meanwhile, the DPS is clearly deeply risky and problematic from the point of the view of the community (as opposed to developers, who may well embrace the fact that permit decisions will be accomplished in 45 days, rather than 180 days as is presently allowed, and that no public consultation is required, and that no 3rd party appeals by the community or others are allowed on permit decisions). For example, there is no guarantee that the community “vision” will be ratified by Planning in the proposed DPS by-law, and moreover, whatever by-law Planning puts forth can be changed by the OMB upon developer appeal.

    And the day that the OMB decides—say, to allow 30 rather than 20 storeys—the existing zoning for the entire area is repealed, and all future applications for up to 30 storeys will be as-of-right, with no public consultation required, and no possibility for 3rd party appeal.

    The Official Plan Policies for Implementing a DPS in Toronto are coming to Council on July 9. Google ‘CORRA The DPS from the community perspective’ to get the most recent scoop, building on Dylan Reid’s excellent article… get informed and WRITE YOUR COUNCILLOR.