How do you handle ravine lot redevelopment?

Saving Old Leaside

It is said that “ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice.” Ravine lots tend to be large, with extensive tree cover, even providing opportunities for exciting wildlife encounters! No surprise that ravine lots are some of Leaside’s most sought after properties. Residential ravine lots in Leaside are restricted basically to Rykert Crescent and Killdeer Crescent, which hug the south bank of the West Don River.

Ravine lots are also ‘hazard lands’ and subject to the policies of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and as a result the developable land tends to be much reduced compared with the total area of the property. This means that the redevelopment of original homes in the Rykert/Killdeer area (which were built in the early 1950s) frequently involves applications for “minor” variances for higher density (Floor Space Index–FSI).

A recent Committee of Adjustment application for minor variances at 112 Rykert Crescent illustrates both the higher density application and also the strong resident engagement in the protection of the ravine and its greenscape, and avoiding over-development of the ravine lots. This application first came to the North York Committee of Adjustment on April 4, 2019, when, facing neighbour opposition, it was deferred at the applicant’s request to make adjustments, and then again on July 4, when it was approved by the Committee with, in my opinion, minor modifications proposed by the applicant. 

While the allowable density (FSI) for the area is 0.6, the original application for 112 Rykert requested FSI of 0.82, which was reduced to 0.81 in the second application, both being 33% over the allowable. There were also variances in length, front yard setback and height. Neighbours were significantly opposed, with 15 letters of opposition submitted, plus letters from the LPOA and Councillor Jaye Robinson. Note: the letters from the neighbours were individually composed and written submissions, not form letters applicants sometimes try to have neighbours sign. Five families also attended the July 4th meeting.

The procedure of the hearing is such that applications where there is “opposition” are held, to follow those where there is no one present to speak to the item other than the proponent. As a result, the neighbour group for the Rykert application waited for the item to be called for some four hours after the posted time for the 15 or so scheduled items. About 15 minutes before the item was eventually called, the architect for the applicant came over and asked to speak to the group outside the hearing room. He said his client had agreed to changes – which were mostly to reduce the total length of the building slightly, resulting in a reduction in the FSI from 0.81 to 0.79. The group pointed out that they were “minor” changes compared with the requested variances, and objected that changes were coming at such a late hour.  The presentation from the group, led by the next door neighbour to the east, who has a background in physical geography and geology, questioned the appropriateness of the “stable top of slope line” as well as the variances themselves. In my (humble) opinion it was the most impressive presentation (from either proponent or opposition) I have seen in the course of attending multiple Committee of Adjustment hearings.     

A motion was made to refuse the application, but this failed to get a seconder. The second motion was to approve the application with the modifications as proposed by the applicant. It passed, likely because the Committee bought the applicant’s argument that this was not an average lot, and because of the ravine there was less land to develop. Sure – but let’s face it – that is the “baggage” that comes with developing a ravine lot! 

Each decision of ever larger permitted density creates a precedent, yet the fact that this is a ravine lot with its unique situation gets missed. What do we learn from this? The Committee is perverse and cannot be relied on to listen to the community’s one voice. How sad!

About Geoff Kettel 115 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Property Owners’ Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), and Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.