Drive to “open up” neighbourhoods like Leaside slows

Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) is a set of City Planning-led initiatives intended to intensify the lands designated as neighbourhoods – the so-called “Yellow Belt” – in Toronto. It is driven by the twin “housing crises” of lack of supply and lack of affordability. “Opening up” neighbourhoods is seen as being one of the ways to relieve the problems.

Not everyone agrees – some say there is no lack of supply, housing starts have exceeded the population increase, and the escalated prices are due to rampant speculation. Nevertheless, Toronto has drunk the Kool-Aid and is determined to intensify the neighbourhoods, with the housing type triplets – Laneway Suites, Garden Suites and Multiplexes. Where does this stand right now?

Laneway Suites

Laneway suites – secondary suites (to a main residence) on a laneway – have been approved, but have limited application in Leaside as there are few lanes here! There is just one built, on the lane behind Randolph south of Stickney (see LL July 2021).

Garden Suites

In March 2022, seven residents’ organizations appealed the City’s approval of Garden Suites legislation to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) – LRA was not one of the appellants, as we were not eligible to do so. The appellant residents’ organizations are not against Garden Suites per se but have concerns about how the Official Plan Amendment and zoning bylaws are written.   

The appeal was registered with the OLT. City Legal then brought forward a Motion to Dismiss the Garden Suites Appeal, and a hearing date was set for June 2.

The seven residents’ organizations submitted a letter to the councillors on May 5. In preparation for the City Council meeting on May 11, they asked the councillors to consider tabling/supporting a motion “to direct staff to meet with us to resolve our concerns rather than seeking to litigate and trying to dismiss the appeal on June 2.”

At the May 11 City Council session, a motion was approved for City Legal and Planning to meet with the appellants, and the meeting was held on May 20. The City listened to the RAs’ submission and provided their explanations for some of the items of concern, but there was no discussion of any possible modifications.

The OLT proceeded on June 2. City Legal presented their Motion and Affidavits, followed by William Roberts, legal counsel for the Appellants presenting the Motion and Affidavits. They now await an OLT decision on the Motion to Dismiss.

Multiplexes

The third component of EHON is Multiplexes (duplex, triplex and fourplex) – the idea is to encourage these forms of housing throughout every neighbourhood. A draft Official Plan Amendment (OPA) was distributed on May 5, 2022, and the public were asked to submit their comments by May 31, 2022.

The Federation of North Toronto Residents Assns (FoNTRA) (of which LRA is a member) reviewed the document but had many questions that could not be answered or understood unless one could read the OPA in conjunction with the proposed Zoning Bylaw Amendment (ZBA), which is not yet available. The schedule called for the EHON Multiplexes OPA being approved by the end of the current City Council term, although the Zoning Bylaw Amendments would not be published for review until early 2023. FoNTRA felt that the two should be reviewed together. They questioned the rush to approve this before City Council’s end of term before the election. LRA sent an email to our councillor and city officials asking that the review/approval of the proposed Official Plan Amendment be deferred.

On May 26, the EHON team announced a change in the schedule: only a Proposals Report will be presented to the Planning and Housing Committee on July 5; they will NOT be asked to approve the Draft OPA. Rather, “both the Official Plan and Zoning Bylaw amendments are expected to be brought forward at the same time in early 2023.”

FoNTRA submitted a very detailed Comment letter on May 31 accompanied by a Planning Report by ARRIS Strategy Studio on the Draft OPA. There are many questions and concerns about the OPA, the not yet published ZBA, and the new concept of ‘Building Envelope’ or ‘Permitted Envelope’ and how all of this will impact our neighbourhoods.

So, how far should the City go to open up neighbourhoods to new types of housing – to so-called “gentle density”? Maybe more time is needed to examine this important question. In March I wrote that “City Planning is moving rapidly on multiplexes and the policy may well be approved by the time City Council holds its last regular meeting in July.” Hopefully, now that additional time has been secured, it can be used for constructive discussions between now and 2023. 

This question of how far the City should go (and how) is important to residents, and deserves much more consideration than the City has allowed for so far. A few meetings on Zoom with maybe 100 people on the line from a wide area is no way to have an effective conversation. Neighbourhoods are not the same. I think the fair way to do this is using local area planning, not one-size-fits-all “as of right” rezoning across Toronto.

About Geoff Kettel 194 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.