Canada: Ontario Government Rewrites Toronto's Downtown And Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plans For More Density

The Ontario Government has approved Secondary Plans for Toronto's Downtown and Yonge-Eglinton area, with significant modifications aimed at creating greater density and intensification around major transit station areas and key locations for growth.

SUMMARY

On June 5, 2019, Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing released decisions on two secondary plans adopted by the City of Toronto—the Downtown Plan and the Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan.

Through its decisions, the Minister approved both secondary plans with significant modifications, essentially re-writing both plans to create a more permissive environment for development, encouraging greater density and intensification around major transit station areas and key locations for growth.

The Minister's approval decisions are not subject to any appeal rights. Both the Downtown Plan and the Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan are in effect as of June 6, 2019.

BACKGROUND

To address issues of growth and development in these two key geographic areas, the City of Toronto initiated multi-year planning processes to develop updated secondary plans for Toronto's Downtown (TOcore) and the Yonge-Eglinton area (Midtown in Focus).

In the middle of 2018, toward the end of the planning process, the City made the controversial move of characterizing both the Downtown Plan and the Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan as proceeding under Section 26 of the Planning Act, effectively shielding both secondary plans from appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The City's approach was unconventional, as Section 26 has historically been reserved for City-wide Provincial conformity exercises (undertaken every 5 or 10 years), rather than area-specific amendments like the secondary plans.

Unlike typical Official Plan Amendments that are exempt from Provincial approval, amendments under Section 26 must be approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

As a result, by characterizing its secondary plans as Section 26 updates, the City subjected both of its plans to Provincial approval.

DOWNTOWN PLAN

On July 27, 2018, City Council adopted the Downtown Plan as Official Plan Amendment No. 406.

The Downtown Plan was forwarded to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for review. The Ministry held a public commenting period from August 31 to November 29, 2018.

The Minister's Modifications to the Downtown Plan

On June 5, 2019, the Minister approved the Downtown Plan with significant modifications. The Minister's revisions focus on optimizing public investment in higher order transit, with express direction for the City's Downtown to exceed the Growth Plan density targets. The revised plan establishes an "integrated" approach to land use planning and infrastructure investment; certain City policies tying development to the availability and provision of infrastructure have been deleted by the Minister.

Under the Minister's version of the plan, lands within 500-800 metres of all existing or planned rapid transit stations are to be planned for transit-supportive densities, in an urban form that optimizes infrastructure. In achieving this objective, the Minister's modifications recognize the possibility for alternative development standards. In addition, the Minister's modifications prohibit built form that would adversely affect the optimization of transit infrastructure.

The revised Downtown Plan creates a framework that encourages site-specific, case-by-case consideration of development applications. Accordingly, certain prescriptive development standards have been removed by the Minister (e.g., policies regulating setbacks, angular plane requirements, maximum heights, etc.). Moreover, much of the City's prescriptive policy language has been revised by the Minister to reflect more general policy guidance (e.g., moving away from the mandatory language of "shall" or "will be required" to the more flexible and permissive language of "will be encouraged", "generally", and "where appropriate").

In the same vein, the Minister has removed the blanket prohibition on tall buildings for lands designated Mixed Use Areas 3 and Mixed Use Areas 4. Where warranted, lands designated Mixed Use Areas 2 in proximity to rapid transit stations may be developed with increased height, massing, and scale reflective of the Mixed Use Areas 1 designation.

The Minister's modifications also reorient the Downtown Plan to embrace residential intensification, recognizing the important contribution new housing makes to the economic health of the City. Accordingly, the modifications soften or remove policies that impose constraints on residential development (e.g., policies for office replacement, minimum floor area requirements for 2- and 3-bedroom units, rental housing replacement, etc.).

The Minister's revisions also reflect the reforms introduced through Bill 108, More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019, particularly in relation to bonusing, community benefits, and parkland dedication.

For implementation, the Minister has introduced a new transition and grandfathering policy (Policy 1.9) stating that the Downtown Plan does not apply to planning applications that were "complete" prior to the approval of the secondary plan (i.e., June 5, 2019) and which have not been withdrawn. Moreover, in-force site-specific Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendments are deemed to conform with the Downtown Plan.

YONGE-EGLINTON SECONDARY PLAN

On July 27, 2018, City Council adopted the Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan as Official Plan Amendment No. 405.

The version of the plan adopted by Council included "last minute" revisions that introduced significant limits on development (e.g., reduced maximum building heights to up to 20 storeys), marking a drastic departure from prior versions of the plan which had formed the basis of consultation.

The Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan was forwarded to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for review. The Ministry held a public commenting period from August 31 to November 29, 2018.

The Minister's Modifications to the Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan

On June 5, 2019, the Minister approved the Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan with significant modifications. The Minister's revisions introduce a strong emphasis on leveraging infrastructure investment to drive growth and development at transit-supportive densities.

Similar to the Downtown Plan, where the City imposed prescriptive development standards, the Minister's modifications relax the policy language to create a more permissive environment for development (e.g., removing or softening the language relating to minimum setbacks, maximum density, holding policies, minimum floor area requirements for 2- and 3-bedroom units, compatibility with context, etc.). As with the Downtown Plan, prescriptive policy language has been revised by the Minister to reflect more general policy guidance.

Most notably, the Minister has removed the City's maximum height limits (which had an upper limit of 20 storeys), and instead, introduced policies to describe "anticipated height ranges" for various areas, with heights of up to 65 storeys in certain locations. These revised height policies provide only general guidance; the actual height limits will be determined at the level of zoning. An Official Plan Amendment is therefore not required to exceed the "anticipated height ranges" described in the revised version of the plan.

The Minister's revisions also reflect the reforms introduced through Bill 108, More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019, particularly in relation to bonusing, community benefits, and parkland dedication.

For implementation, the Minister has introduced a new transition and grandfathering policy (Policy 10.9) stating that the new Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan does not apply to planning applications which were "complete" prior to the approval of the secondary plan (i.e., June 5, 2019) and which have not been withdrawn. Moreover, in-force site-specific Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendments are deemed to conform with the new Yonge-Eglinton Secondary Plan.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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