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Council approves stringent green-roof rules

Green roofs will be required on new buildings in Toronto starting next year after city council yesterday overwhelmingly adopted the most comprehensive rules of any city in North America.

By a vote of 36-2, with councillors Rob Ford and Doug Holyday the only dissenters, council approved measures that developers warn will add to costs and that green-roof advocates say do not go far enough.

The new bylaw catapults Toronto to the top of the heap in North America in terms of the comprehensiveness of its mandated rules, according to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. But the advocacy group said that Toronto does not even rank in the top 10 of North American cities - with Chicago in Number 1 spot - in terms of square footage of green roofs installed in 2008.

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"We would have liked it [the Toronto bylaw]to be more aggressive," said Steven Peck, president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, though he praised council for "exercising leadership" on a tool to fight climate change.

Stephen Dupuis, chief executive officer of the Building Industry and Land Development Association, said the biggest concern for developers is the cost of adjusting to the new requirements during an economic downturn. "Cost is an issue," he said. "The market is so price-sensitive now."

Mr. Dupuis cited a 50-per-cent drop in condo sales in Toronto last month, to 398 units from 798 units in the same month a year ago.

The new rules kick in for new residential buildings constructed after Jan. 31, 2010, that are at least 2,000 square metres - a tougher provision than the 5,000-square-metre threshold initially suggested by city staff - and at least 20 metres high (six storeys), down from the 23 metres originally proposed.

Mr. Peck said his organization would have preferred the measure to apply to low-rise buildings as well.

Industrial buildings were given a reprieve until Jan. 31, 2011, when they will have to set aside either 10 per cent of the roof or 2,000 square metres, whichever is less, for sod and other eco-materials.

Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), who led the charge for tougher rules, called the new requirements for green roofs "an opportunity rather than a handicap."

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He noted that roofs make up 21 per cent of Toronto's surface area, raising the temperature of the urban environment and pushing up demand for electricity in summer months. Garden roofs, he added, help conserve rainfall, reduce energy demand and add to the beauty of the city.

With yesterday's resounding vote, Mr. Pantalone said, "You will see other municipalities now looking to Toronto and emulating us for the greater good of humanity."

But dissenting councillors questioned the need for Toronto to be a leader in setting new environmental regulations.

"Why do we have to be first?" Mr. Holyday asked before voting against the measure. "Who are we? We can't even pay our bills."

But Councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) praised the decision as "a pretty darn good starting point.

"I would rather be first than last," he said.

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