Canada: Toronto’s New Downtown Tall Buildings Guidelines

Last Updated: April 26 2012
Article by Jason Park

At its meeting of February 14th, 2012, Toronto & East York Community Council considered new "Tall Buildings Guidelines" for downtown Toronto.

In 2007, City Council had authorized City staff to retain a consulting team to conduct a study focusing in on intensification and tall building location analysis for the downtown area. The City issued an RFP and ultimately selected Urban Strategies Inc. and Hariri Pontarini Architects to complete this study. The study area was bounded by Bathurst Street on the west, the rail corridor north of Dupont Street on the north, the Don Valley Parkway on the east, and the Toronto Harbour on the south. Secondary Planning Areas falling within this study's area boundary do not form part of this study's recommendations.

The purpose of the study, as set out in the RFP, was as follows:

  • Implement the strategic direction set by the City's Official Plan, and in particular Chapter 3: Building a Successful City;
  • Improve the quality of the built environment and public realm in the downtown and define its sense of place;
  • Engage the public by providing an opportunity for a local "visioning" exercise;
  • Increase public confidence by improving the predictability and transparency of the Tall Buildings Evaluation and Development Approvals Process; and
  • Reducing the number of tall building development proposals being adjudicated by the Ontario Municipal Board, and the variability of Board decisions with respect to these proposals.

The study that was produced by the consulting team was to identify a framework for downtown streets that tall buildings could be located upon, the general heights for those tall buildings, and some built‐form guidance with respect to these tall buildings.

The study identified parts of major downtown streets where tall buildings were considered to be appropriate, and called these "High Streets". These streets include Bay, Bloor, College and King, amongst others. The study recommended amendments to the mapping for pre‐existing Council‐adopted urban design guidelines for various areas of the Toronto downtown including removing portions of some streets previously identified as "High Streets", including portions of University Avenue, Church Street and Jarvis Street. The heights being proposed for properties fronting onto "High Streets" fall into six range categories, as follows:

1. 47 to 77 metres (15 to 25 storeys);

2. 62 to 107 metres (20 to 35 storeys);

3. 77 to 137 metres (25 to 45 storeys);

4. 92 to 152 metres (30 to 50 storeys);

5. 107 to 182 metres (35 to 60 storeys); and

6. 137 metres and up (45 storeys to unlimited).

The City also created a category referred to as "Secondary High Streets". These streets generally run adjacent to High Streets and are mostly lined with residential apartment buildings on which tall buildings are also considered an appropriate form of development. Once again, the study also recommended that certain previously‐identified Secondary High Streets be removed from that category, including portions of Yorkville Avenue, St. Nicholas Street, Asquith Avenue, Park Road, Court Street and Colbourne Street.

As a general principle, the height ranges for these Secondary High Streets would generally be onethird lower than the High Streets they run parallel to. If a Secondary High Street runs between two High Streets, the lower of the High Street heights would apply in determining the Secondary High Street heights. In the event that there were no immediately‐adjacent High Streets, the height of the nearest High Street would be used to determine the Secondary High Street height.

The study also made several recommendations concerning the podium portions of tall buildings, including establishing a maximum street wall podium height, depending on the street's right‐ofway width and also incorporating a minimum podium or base podium height of 10.5 metres, to discourage the under‐development of tall building sites.

The study made recommendations respecting heritage conservation, including recommending that all tall building development proposals containing heritage resources on or adjacent to the development site should continue to provide a heritage impact statement as part of the City's complete application process. A Heritage Impact Statement is required to reference existing municipal and Provincial policies and guidelines, including detailed principles which are set out in the report, and must demonstrate how the proposed conservation strategy will maintain the heritage values and attributes of the property.

There are also 23 performance standards which the study proposes be adopted by City Council, including standards dealing with, amongst other things, podium location/façade alignment, minimum sidewalk widths, priority retail streets, minimum ground floor height, pedestrian weather protection, maximum floor plate size, tower set back from the podium level and tower separation distances.

City Council has not adopted these Downtown Tall Buildings Guidelines yet as Toronto & East York Community Council referred the study back to City Planning for further consultation with affected Councillors on a number of issues, including height incentives related to provision of community benefits in downtown Toronto in relation to development proposals for tall buildings. City Planning was directed to report back to the April 17th, 2012 meeting of the Toronto & East York Community Council. The earliest that City Council could therefore adopt these Guidelines would be at the May 8th and 9th City Council meeting.

One of the recommendations of City Planning staff is that City staff are to use these Downtown Tall Buildings Guidelines in the evaluation of all new and current tall building development proposals falling within the Guideline boundaries. As a result, all developers and landowners who are in the process of developing, or will soon be developing their lands should take a very careful look at these Tall Buildings Guidelines.

Finally, please note that these Guidelines are NOT appealable to the Ontario Municipal Board. We understand that City Planning will be preparing a further report which will identify future implementation options for these Guidelines and performance standards, which may include, but not be limited to, amendments to the City's Official Plan and Zoning By‐law. The City's adoption of those amendments would be appealable to the Ontario Municipal Board.

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