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Beach Triangle Residents Association

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The Beach Triangle Residents Association, Toronto, Ontario

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Planning 101

By Hans Looije

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Thirty years ago, residents of the Triangle didn’t give much thought to city planning and zoning. Our big problem was the racetrack. We got zoning to keep out boarding houses and got one hour parking and towing.

With the sale and development of the racetrack we got our first taste of 'planning'. Residents wanted more parkland, developers wanted high density and city planning worked a compromise. Queen Street East had been zoned for a maximum of four storeys. The developer asked for a minor variance to the by-law to put domes on the corners above the fourth story. This was granted by the city's Committee of Adjustment (C of A). Shortly after, the developer returned to the committee asking for a fifth floor on the end buildings. This ‘minor variance’ was also granted by the C of A. So in the end we had a six-storey building on the corner that had been zoned for only four.

In the following years, the newly-amalgamated City of Toronto developed an Official Plan. The plan included an intensification plan along streets designated as ‘Avenues’. As each Avenue was different, the city promised to do an Avenue Study along each to lay out density and heights as one size does not fit all. When this proved to be too much work, the city commissioned an outside firm to write up the Avenues and Mid-Rise Guidelines, which laid out the maximums for buildings along Avenues with no regard for local conditions and only required a Segment Study to ask for a rezoning if an Avenue Study had not been done.

Seven years ago, with the new guidelines in place, we heard about a six-storey condo proposal for the bottom of Rainsford Road. It was approved with no Avenue Study or Segment Study ever being done. It was seen as small incremental variation from the 'six-storey' building across the street. It is now the precedent for all new condos along Queen Street East.

With pressure now from all residents of the Beach, a Visioning Study was started, which resulted in the Queen Street East Urban Design Guidelines (something most residents of the beach could live with). However, guidelines are still only guidelines so ‘as of right’ zoning was changed to conform to the guidelines and an Official Plan Amendment (OPA) is now proposed to make the new zoning resistant to developer appeals.

This leads us to proposals regarding the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). If there is a perceived problem with any of the decisions made by City Planning, a developer or residents group can appeal to the OMB, which in the past has usually ruled in favour of development rights. The city now has the power to set up its own Local Appeal Board (LAB). If a hearing at the C of A is unfavourable, one could then appeal to the LAB and not the OMB. An appeal to a LAB will probably not be any cheaper but at least members adjudicating a decision will be from Toronto and hopefully more representative of the interests of Torontonians.

There is another option that the city is looking at. It is called a Development Permit System (DPS). If a DPS were in place at the beginning if the Queen Street Visioning process it would be much more detailed, cost considerably more, and be in effect for over two years. In the end, if we had an OPA and a DPS zone for Queen Street East, no developer could come in and ask for a rezoning of a specific site. And no OMB appeal. You either build what is allowed or appeal the whole DPS zoning for the whole area. Even minor variances at the C of A are not allowed. What is the downside?

Once in place, only a developer has the right of appeal. The original consultation may only include homeowners for the properties involved. A DPS zone with big loopholes cannot be appealed by local residents. The big question is: If the city could not complete Avenue studies, do they have the resources to do the DPS zone studies or will they be forced to 'contract out' the studies to the industry? Even now, when a developer wants to build along a main street that is not an Avenue, they are told to conform to the Mid-Rise guidelines because the planning department is under staffed and cannot spend the time at the OMB arguing for lower heights and densities.