New zoning and development rules would prod builders toward ‘gentle densities.’
Addressing Toronto's “missing middle” won’t happen without updated zoning rules and revised development charges, including parking and parkland dedication requirements, the report warns. (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star File Photo)
The Toronto region has a “missing middle” of affordable, family-oriented midrise, stacked townhouse and townhome development.
They’re the kind of homes that create “gentle densities” — urban villages where people live an easy walk to rapid transit, shops and services.
A report from the Ryerson City Building Institute (CBI) and Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) says the proposed changes to the provincial growth plan could fill in that “missing middle.”
It warns, however, that won’t happen without updated zoning rules and revised development charges, including parking and parkland dedication requirements.
“Highrise condo towers are being built in downtown Toronto and suburban centres, but these do not always offer units suitable for all family sizes,” says the report, called Suburbs on Track, released Wednesday.
Without alternatives to single-family homes and small condos, the province risks losing a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for a return on its $32 billion regional transit investment, said CBI executive director Cherise Burda.
“It’s not to say we do this instead of building detached houses in the suburban fringes. That is continuing to happen. But we also need a lot more housing options. The demand is outstripping supply, not only for single detached homes, but for all homes in areas that are closer to the city or closer to (transit) access,” she said.
Ontario’s 10-year-old Smart Growth Plan is the subject of a review that proposes to create denser communities in the inner suburbs and in the municipalities around Toronto. The consultation period ends Oct. 31.
But Burda said she is concerned the province will be pressured to reduce the density targets by builders, who say that the land constraints imposed by the growth plan and the Greenbelt — a protected natural area around the city — are pushing up home prices.
“The Growth Plan, if enforced properly, would create more housing supply that is affordable to more people in places people want to live,” said Burda.
“Most people want a detached home but if they’re given a choice between living in a detached home two hours away or living in a midrise or a townhouse that is connected and it’s half an hour from the city, the work we have done has shown people prefer the latter.”
Developers will feed that supply, she said, “if you set the rules right and make it more cost effective.”
“Right now they go where land is cheap and has less rules. We need to make things more cost effective and less complicated to build the density and the type of homes where people want to live.”
“There’s a whole suite of recommendations that need to happen to make development affordable and to make it attractive,” said Burda.
Among the recommendations are:
- Pre-zoning transit nodes and corridors for higher density building rather than maintaining the current site-by-site approvals system.
- Making provincial transit funding contingent on municipal zoning amendments that will meet density targets.
- Speeding up transit intensification plans so they take effect well before the 2041 date by which municipalities have to meet their population density targets.
Unless that planning is sped up, the report warns, “the wrong type of built-form could begin to take hold around transit infrastructure,” in the next five to 10 years.
- Provincial support for municipalities that need more planners to do the work of rezoning.
- Levelling the cost of parking. It can cost 15 times as much to build underground compared to surface parking, making it more attractive to develop land that is further from high density nodes. To counter that, the report recommends reducing the minimum per-unit parking space requirements for builders and “unbundling” condos from parking so that car spaces can be sold separately.
- Changing the rules around the parkland dedication funds, developers must pay municipalities — a cost that gets passed on to homebuyers. Most developers don’t actually build parks into their projects. They pay a cash-in-lieu sum to the municipality, which allocates the money to parks where there is land available. That’s why some neighbourhoods have so much more parkland than others and why cities like Toronto are getting creative with parks under expressways and over rail tracks.
- Cap cash-in-lieu payments so they don’t exceed the size of the development site, making land around growth nodes and transit more cost effective, says the report.
Where the Toronto region will grow from 2011 to 2041
21.8% York Region
18.8% Peel Region
17.0% Durham Region
14.7% Halton Region
Suburbs on Track from the Ryerson City Building Institute and Ontario Home Builders’ Association
Source: The Star, 9/7/2016