As the City of Toronto and Ontario struggle with a housing shortage, the tension between the municipal and provincial governments is only getting worse.
Last week, councillors Mike Layton, Joe Cressy, and Kristyn Wong-Tam held a joint press conference and announced their “red light, green light” system for evaluating residential development proposals in their respective wards.
The new system is in response to the provincial government recently making sweeping changes to the development plans for downtown and midtown Toronto. Around seven years have been invested in the TOcore plan, which lays the groundwork for the next 25 years, and Ontario made 224 changes to it seemingly overnight.
The province says the changes are necessary in order to build new housing fast enough to accommodate population growth projections. The councillors stress that they’re not anti-development, but a lot of research went into designing the TOcore strategy, and there are reasons why certain things are allowed or not allowed.
If a development proposal crosses one of these councillor’s desks, they will give it a red light rating if it does not adhere to “good” planning, and I assume the unrevised TOcore plan would be referenced to determine this. A red light means the proposal will be “deprioritized.” Plans that are “good” for the community will be prioritized and receive more attention from City staff.
Even if a deprioritized proposal makes it to the construction phase, councillors can slow the process by denying required permits. At the press conference, Wong-Tam said, “Good luck trying to build your tower or your condo if we don’t give you the road occupancy permit. Good luck if we don’t give you that permission to remove that single tiny little tree. It is simply not going to happen.”
The Building Industry and Land Development Association was quick to defend the province’s changes.
“This blatant disregard of provincial policy is the opposite of a housing strategy, in fact, it’s an anti-housing strategy,” said Dave Wilkes, President and CEO of BILD. “The net impact will add cost to the City, add cost to new home purchasers, increase the delays of much needed livable housing close to transit and lengthen approvals times as challenges and appeals are undertaken to ensure that the law is respected.”
BILD says that the GTA’s population will increase by 115,000 new residents every year until 2041, increasing 40% in just over 20 years. They come right out and say that the councillors’ actions are illegal and will add cost and delays, and restrict supply.
On one hand, I want the development approvals process to be quicker so we can build more homes where people want to live, but on the other hand, I kind of respect the councillors for standing up for their wards. At least they came right out and said they are willing to use their political powers to slow development. I imagine stuff like this is already happening throughout the development process, it just isn’t publicly announced.
My opinion on the matter - the province should be defining density goals, then allowing municipalities to figure out the best way to meet those goals. Councillors, mayors, and their constituents have on-the-ground knowledge of their community. Provincial planning staff are designated to specific counties and should be thinking with the big picture in mind.
Also, why can’t we all just get along?