Understanding the Planning Process

Ted Butler, BPRO President, with his dog Rocky. Photo credit: Steve Ilkiw

In our July newsletter, BPRO President Ted Butler wrote an article explaining why the proposed development for 3180 Yonge Street is just one example of a much larger problem: the unsolved battle between two sets of conflicting planning priorities.  You can read the article here:

Battle Between Municipal & Provincial Priorities in Bedford Park

Developers could be set to exploit two sets of competing planning guidelines in Toronto over the next 12 months. Of course, as residents of Bedford Park, our primary concern is how this will play out in the development application for 3180 Yonge Street. The developer is clearly trying to use this to their advantage with their appeal to LPAT.

However, it’s important to recognize the unusual circumstances that have led to such an excessive development proposal, and the planning clash that could have implications for neighbourhoods across the city.

BPRO isn’t opposed to new developments or increased densification. However, in the case of 3180 Yonge Street, increased densification can easily be solved by a proposal that is no more than seven stories and is sensitive to the entirely reasonable concerns of our residents.

On one side of this battle, we have the City of Toronto, with clear guidelines, policies and priorities as outlined in its Official Plan. For example, the proposed development at 3180 Yonge Street is governed by the Avenues and Mid-Rise Building Study (which you can find HERE), which specify things such as height and density (for example, building heights are capped at a 1:1 ratio with the width of the road). These guidelines are carefully crafted to ensure that new buildings are of an appropriate scale and transition to the surrounding neighbourhood.

On the other side, we have the provincial government, which enacted Bill 108 in mid-2019. Out of this came A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (read it HERE), a growth plan focused on increasing density, in particular around Major Transit Station Areas (MTSAs)―in other words, main streets within a 500-800 metre radius of a transit station. Densification has been a provincial priority since the Wynne government.

This plan for increased density may work well for many of the more than 180 MTSAs in Ontario, including stops along the new Ontario Line. However, the City of Toronto is already at 100 percent of the density target.

Still, the province’s plan could be used to justify a tall, dense building at 3180 Yonge Street simply because it’s near Lawrence subway station, regardless of the fact that it exceeds municipal bylaws, exists in an already established low-rise neighbourhood, and will increase ridership at an already packed subway stop.

Who gets to decide WHICH set of planning rules apply?

The ultimate authority rests with the LPAT, a provincial body that replaced the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). When LPAT was first created by the Wynne government, it was intended to be a body that would oversee the fairness of the planning process rather than having decision-making power. Under the Ford government, the LPAT has been given authority to approve or reject development proposals based on densification priorities outlined in A Place to Grow.

When municipal and provincial guidelines around density are in conflict, developers ask themselves a simple question: Why go through months or even a year of effort and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, to satisfy the City of Toronto’s planning regulations and resident concerns when you can just appeal to LPAT, which follows a different set of priorities?

Why, indeed.

The bigger planning picture

This is not about a single development proposal. LPAT approval of one development could mean that every commercial property within 500-800 metres (the City is required to establish individual targets for each MTSA) of Lawrence and York Mills TTC stations is fair game for similar development. These two transit hubs basically provide cover for developers seeking to build all along the Bedford Park section of Yonge Street.

The City spent years creating a growth and densification plan for Yonge and Eglinton through the Mid-Town in Focus guidelines (which you can read HERE). As a result, Yonge-Eglinton Centre is expected to grow from 19,000 to 49,000 residents—an increase in density of more than 250 percent.

Densification of Yonge and Lawrence could instead be driven by a patchwork of precedent-setting LPAT decisions rather than thoughtful planning and guidelines.

What happens now?

It will be at least a year before there is a shift in the battle of municipal versus provincial rules. First, there could be a change of government in June 2022. Second, the City will release a new Official Plan by July 2022 (see sidebar, right). This new plan will incorporate new provincial priorities, finally providing clarity for both residents and developers. However, these timelines give developers at least a year to take advantage of the no-man’s land we find ourselves in today.

Even though NYX Capital Corporation has appealed their development application to LPAT, it isn’t necessarily a slam dunk. In fact, if NYX is seen as uncooperative with the City’s planning process and the concerns of local residents, it could work against them when they end up before the Tribunal.

Fortunately, BPRO has access to professionals who are able to provide pro bono advice. However, as a grass-roots organization entirely funded by community donations, we are not in a financial position to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire a team of lawyers and planners to advocate on our behalf before LPAT. We can simply offer whatever support we can to the City of Toronto if and when a tribunal date is set.