Zoning rules that ban anything but single-family homes in swaths of Ontario cities must end in order to address the housing crisis, an expert panel convened by the provincial government says in a report that recommends sweeping changes to the planning process.
The report of the government’s housing affordability task force, chaired by Jake Lawrence, the Bank of Nova Scotia’s CEO and group head of global banking and markets, says the province needs to commit to building 1.5 million new homes over the next 10 years. And to succeed, it suggests a menu of rules and regulations to scrap in order to speed up a sluggish approval system that has contributed to house prices spiralling out of control.
Released on Tuesday, the report also says the province should declare that up to four units, with up to four storeys, be allowed “as of right” – automatically without rezoning – doing away with local rules that now mandate just single-family homes. The report says that in 70 per cent of Toronto, current rules ban all but new single-family units. But this change could come with a backlash, as many homeowners have historically resisted new development.
Other recommendations include ratcheting up the province’s density plans around transit by allowing as-of-right zoning of “unlimited height and unlimited density” near major transit stations if municipalities fail to hit provincial density targets, and allowing six-to-11-storey buildings on any bus or streetcar route.
The task force calls for “more permissive land use, planning and approvals system” that would scrap local rules meant to preserve “neighborhood character” – such as those that restrict the shadows cast by new buildings – and replace them with provincial standards.
The panel would also legalize “multi-tenant housing,” or rooming houses. (In Toronto, where such dwellings are permitted only in the old part of the city, twice last year the mayor was unwilling or unable to whip the vote to allow them more widely. Council instead deferred a decision both times.)
Rules requiring minimum numbers of new parking spots should be removed or reduced in municipalities larger than 50,000 people, the task force says. And the panel recommends changes to make it harder to appeal developments before the province’s backlog-plagued land tribunal, including a $10,000 fee.
With just four months before a provincial election, Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said in an interview he hoped to produce a “bold plan” with regulatory changes or a bill to put before the Legislature before voters go to the polls. But he would not say what recommendations it would include.
“I haven’t taken anything off the table,” Mr. Clark said. “I want to deliver a very forward-thinking plan that gets as much done as possible.”
Mr. Clark has already brought in a series of changes meant to speed the construction of housing. But critics say the moves were aimed at making it easier for developers to get new suburban sprawl approved. Premier Doug Ford has made it clear he intends to win re-election with his Progressive Conservative Party on a promise to build two previously shelved highways, the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413 – both of which environmentalists warn will further fuel sprawl.
In a brief reference to the highways, the task force says it’s “important to plan thoughtfully for the communities that will follow from these investments, to make sure they are compact and livable.”
The report also says increased density is needed when building on “greenfield” farmland, outside built-up areas. The government reduced density requirements for suburban municipalities in its Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe in 2019. The panel also says the province, even with its protected Greenbelt areas, does not have a shortage of land for new housing. Mr. Clark has been pushing for municipalities across the GTA to designate what critics say is too much new farmland for future development. Hamilton defied him in November, voting instead to direct more development to its built-up areas.
The province, the report says, should amend the Planning Act and its other policies to make “growth in the full spectrum of housing supply” and “intensification within existing built-up areas of municipalities” its “most important residential housing priorities.”
The proposals land as municipalities across North America are taking a closer look at both restrictive zoning and parking minimums. Led in part by the Yes in My Backyard (YIMBY) movement, a planning approach noted in the report, a number of jurisdictions are loosening zoning restrictions or considering doing so.
Among them are Minneapolis, which voted in 2019 to allow duplexes and triplexes on all residential lots. California passed a bill that would permit duplexes and fourplexes on most residential lots. In Canada, Toronto city council recently backed reforms that would allow backyard dwelling units.
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