The Harmonized Zoning By-law: Misguided from the Start

by David Godley

In my last blog post (below), I flagged some general concerns with the proposed new harmonized zoning bylaw.  At yesterday's Open House yesterday, city planners reassured me on a number of concerns, including:

  1. the reflection of existing bylaw requirements in the current draft,
  2. recognising non-conforming uses; and
  3. allowing approved minor variances to continue.

However I am sharply critical of the whole project and there are lessons to be learned.

  1. The project should have been administrative and  taken around 6 to 9 months for a saving of around $5 million. The starting point, creating one massive bylaw, was wrong in that zoning is a local matter and should reflect local characteristics and aspirations. This caused major conflict and was the root of the major issues including the three listed above. Time would not have been wasted because there would have been no issue if a number of the existing bylaws remained.  The terms of reference should have been clearly spelt out and referred to those using the bylaw in the field before being adopted.
  2. Staff went on a wild goose-chase trying to standardise zoning bylaws across the city.  This would have radically changed the character of neighbourhoods by allowing greater residential densities in some areas and reduced densities in others. The situation was brought back on track through the initiatives of Cathie MacDonald of People Plan Toronto and Councillor Walker who set up meetings between staff on those involved  with residential zoning and further talks with those concerned with industrial categories.  It was 5 years into the project before true public participation was invoked.  An advisory committee or committees of stakeholders should have been struck at the outset. This should be done for all major planning studies. There is a disconnect between City Hall and the public. People are angry and justified in calling the city dysfunctional. Community participation can bridge the gap. I would like to donate my professional time but am constantly put in a conflict situation.
  3. We are being planned by development application rather than policy. We are inundated with spot zonings and Offical Plan Amendments. Planning needs to be local plan led and planning staff numbers boosted to enable this to happen (or perhaps transferred from this project.) Neighbourhood/ Area plans should be prepared involving the community in order to guide development and to bring zoning into conformity with the relatively recently approved Official Plan. It is time to commence local planning with good  public participation practice to create high quality pedestrian-friendly environments which will attract investment (like the St Lawrence Starch Development in Port Credit) and improve the economy.

Growth management needs to be rethought and the policies of the Official Plan blended with grass roots initiatives. If whole nations can reach consensus such as the coalition in UK it should be relatively easier in Toronto. People sitting around a table with different objectives can come up with creative solutions if the mindset is right.  Toronto established neighbourhood offices when it had the reputation as one of the leading planning cities in North America.

Sat, 2013-02-16 12:33

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