LANEWAY HOUSING | TOCore | OMB REFORM | COLLEGE ST. STUDY | CENTRAL TECH FIELD | BUILDINGS INVENTORY | COLLEGE ST. REVITALIZATION
HVRA has taken a leadership role in a number of studies and consultations focussed on planning and development. The ones described here (most recent first) have reached an end point, and some have already measurably affected the neighbourhood. Links lead to relevant webpages and to PDF and Excel files of documents generated by these activities.
Laneway Housing: HVRA Contributions to City Deliberations (2017-18)
In 2017-18, the city held public discussions on options for building laneway suites in suitable areas of the city, with the announced aim of increasing the stock of affordable housing. HVRA took an active role in the discussions.
LOCAL STUDY, Summer 2017: Responding to interests and concerns expressed by HVRA members and by City Council, we conducted a detailed study of the lanes in Harbord Village. Our study maps and measures all 28 of them and analyses their suitability for laneway housing according to the rules at that time. Toronto East York Community Council received this study as background material for its meeting of July 4, 2017—and promptly recommended it to City Planning as a model for such studies. Read Sue Dexter’s introductory remarks here.
ANALYSIS OF PLANNING REPORT, Spring 2018: Responding to a request from City Council, the Planning Department released a new set of guidelines for construction of laneway suites in some areas of the city, including ours. Changing Lanes: The City of Toronto’s Review of Laneway Suites is available on the city website.
- In the Spring 2018 HVRA Newsletter (page 11), Sue Dexter and Carolee Orme outlined the main stipulations in this report. These included access for fire and emergency services, specifications for height, size and spacing, and protection of permeable surface and mature trees. A photo and diagram accompanied the article.
- On April 29, HVRA sent a letter to Toronto East York Community Council (TEYCC) noting that the draft guidelines did not address the need for affordable housing, sufficiently protect green space, or consider existing standards for lot density.
- In its May 2 meeting, TEYCC considered the draft guidelines and asked Planning to review its recommendations for further discussion at the next TEYCC meeting. See the minutes for Item TE32.11.
- On June 6, TEYCC discussed a list of revised recommendations, including several dealing with affordability. The report was adopted with those amendments. On June 26, City Council adopted the report as amended. The minutes for Item TE33.3 show the report that will now guide city policy.
TOCore was a four-year endeavour by all City departments to update the Official Plan for the Downtown—from Dupont to the lake, Bathurst to the Don River—and prepare our part of the City for major intensification while preserving its neighbourhoods. The downtown is expected to double its residential population in the next 25 years. As Carolee Orme described it in the HVRA Spring 2016 Newsletter (pp. 10-11), TOCore aims at ensuring that all elements of infrastructure would be aligned with this rapid growth. It governs built-form, sky view, parks, shadows and a host of other policies to make our downtown area more liveable.
For HVRA the definition of Mixed Commercial Residential zoning on Harbord Street was changed to allow for 4-storey heights rather than the six storeys that had been in force. Andrew Farncombe and Lori Flowers from City Planning gave the invited talk at the 2017 HVRA Annual General Meeting, summarizing intended directions for downtown planning. See the slides from their presentation here.
NOTE: On November 28th, 2018, HVRA wrote a joint letter with the Annex RA and others to defend the TOCore Official Policy Amendment which has gone to the Minister of Municipal Affairs for review and, hopefully, signature.
HVRA was a strong contributor to the TOCore discussions and has been chosen to implement a pilot project that could transform our streets. See below for some of the topics on which HVRA has focussed.
1. Ward Boundary Review
In September 2016, the City asked for public input on revising ward boundaries to reflect population density, offering only two options: either 44 or 26 wards. In a May 2016 letter to the TOCore Committee, HVRA called for an increase in the number of Councillors to keep representation more equitable. In a September 2016 followup message, HVRA noted restrictions on public input in the consultation process. Read the two HVRA letters here.
OUTCOME (city documents): In November 2016, Council voted to increase the number of Councillors from 44 to 47, with one councillor for each ward. The new ward boundaries were put in place for the 2018 municipal election but were cut to 25 by the new Ontario government in the controversial Bill 5.
2. Tower Separation
At its meeting of 7 September 2016, Toronto East York Community Council (TEYCC) considered a report on increasing the setback requirements for tall buildings in downtown areas. HVRA wrote to describe how our area is affected by proposals for apartment towers built very close together. Read the HVRA letter here.
OUTCOME (city documents): TEY Councillors agreed that separation between towers should remain at least 25 metres. Council accepted that recommendation in its meeting of 5 October 2016.
3. Improving Downtown Streets
Building on our Green Plan, Harbord Village will be the first neighbourhood to bring an important element of TOCore to life. The TOCore proposals include a substantial document about creation of improved parks and public realm. One of the aims is to make city streets greener, pedestrian-focussed, and sustainable—”complete” streets for downtown living.
Policy 7.3.13 of the TOCore Downtown Plan (page 22) calls for implementation that will “support community-based planning and design process, including the use of pilot projects to demonstrate and assess local benefits, impacts and use patterns of proposed improvements to parks and the public realm.”
OUTCOME: Harbord Village is serving as a pilot for replacement of street-corner concrete boxes with in-street planters (read an account on our Gardeners’ webpage). Next phases of our Green Plan include greening of flanking areas on Bloor and Harbord Streets and the addition of a new park at the north side of 666 Spadina. See our Greening the Village webpage for unfolding news, and follow our sidebar stories in the Greening and Parks categories.
4. Intensification of Main Streets
TOCore envisions further development on main streets surrounding residential neighbourhoods, including both more housing and improved amenities. Its first published plans labelled Bloor, College, and Harbord Streets in our area as Mixed Use Area 2 (Transitional) or Mixed Use Area 3 (Main Streets). The final slide in the 2017 AGM presentation, for instance, indicated potential development areas for the sections of Harbord designated as Area 3, which would allow buildings up to six stories in height. In a letter of April 30, 2018, HVRA questioned the appropriateness of this designation as well as noting our need for more green space.
The final TOCore report was presented to City Council on May 23, 2018 and approved with several amendments. The documents considered and the amendments made are recorded on the webpage for that meeting.
OUTCOME: Amendment 3d changes the designation of Harbord between Spadina and Bathurst, excluding the southwest and northwest corners with Spadina, to Mixed Use Area 4 (Local). This designation would limit building heights to four stories or less.
The OMB considered appeals of decisions made by the City’s Committee of Adjustment—and often overturned them. In Fall 2016, after strong concerns expressed by Toronto City Council and residents’ groups like HVRA, the Province of Ontario instituted a review of the OMB, asking for public input. HVRA, along with the Annex Residents’ Association, Seaton Village Residents’ Association, and Huron‐Sussex Residents’ Organization, wrote a letter to the provincial review board (cc’d to City and provincial officials) focussing on ways to make the process of development planning more efficient and representative. As it states, there is an urgent need “to reduce and limit the number of planning matters destined for OMB appeals.” Read the full letter here.
In May 2017, the City of Toronto took an initial step towards this end by establishing the Toronto Local Appeal Body (TLAB) to replace the OMB for minor variance and consent applications. The TLAB began functioning in Summer 2017, and a Public Guide to its workings has been made available online.
The hope is that TLAB members will understand Toronto’s unique character and communities. Topics may range from minor variances such as setback of garden sheds to consent applications for dividing a property into separate lots or adding adjacent land to an existing lot. As well as holding appeal hearings, the board will offer a mediation process where concerns can be discussed beforehand without the need to hire professional consultants. Hearings may be held in person, by telephone or video conferencing, or in written form. A list of appointees, online forms, and links to decisions rendered are all available at www.toronto.ca/tlab.
However, the OMB will continue to hear appeals of all other matters, which include re-zonings and appeals of official plans and their amendments. The big developments will still be headed for the OMB.
In May 2017, a thorough study of built form along College Street from McCaul to Bathurst was presented to Toronto East York Community Council, for adoption by full City Council. The College Street Study is now available online.
It recommends ways to harmonize new development with the established streetscape and adjoining neighbourhoods, including heritage elements. It also calls for provision of new parks and enhancement of privately-owned but publicly-accessible spaces. (See also the improvements for our area of College Street made in 2005 through HVRA’s College Street Revitalization project.)
Character Area A, the north side of College from Spadina to Bathurst, is labelled as a street of low-rise heritage buildings, not appropriate for significant intensification. The report recommends that its consistent streetwall of mainly retail stores, fronting directly on the sidewalk, should be maintained. New buildings should be no more than 16 metres in height (compared to 30 metres on the south side of the street), incorporating rear angular planes that provide a transition to the residential areas behind them.
The recommendations are built on several years of preliminary study and public consultations, including representations from HVRA:
- In December 2015, the City Planning Department presented its initial College Street Study to residents. The presentation slides are available online.
- Several concerns were raised by HVRA and Harbord Village residents. Respect for Heritage elements is one of them, as outlined in an article from the Spring 2016 HVRA Newsletter (pages 8-9) by Sue Dexter and Carolee Orme: “Rather than seeking intensification in this area, there is growing interest in preserving one of downtown Toronto’s few remaining Victorian shopping streets.”
- One HVRA member took an early opportunity to send her response to the city, and has given us permission to make it public. Read Patricia Aldana’s letter.
- On December 5, 2017, Toronto City Council voted to designate 281-289 College Street as a Heritage building. This designation is in keeping with neighbourhood input to the College St. Study. HVRA wrote in support of the Heritage Report.
- On April 24, 2018, Toronto City Council granted Heritage designation to multiple properties on the north side of College St. between Spadina and Bathurst. HVRA’s letter of support describes the properties affected.
- For a general perspective on the economic value of conserving heritage buildings on main streets, see notes and links in the Economics section of our Heritage page.
The proposal from Toronto District School Board to replace the playing field at Central Technical School with an artificial-turf field and a seasonal dome roused strong reactions. On March 6, 2015, after more than a year of public controversy and intensive discussions, HVRA posted this message.
HVRA Welcomes Mediated Settlement on Central Tech Field
Thanks to a mediated settlement recently concluded under the auspices of the Ontario Municipal Board, the Harbord Village Residents’ Association and its community partners have succeeded in reducing the scale and potentially harmful effects of a proposed large championship field at Central Tech.
You are hearing this now for the first time, as the mediation process required absolute confidentiality while the issues were still in play.
“This settlement restores a spirit of co-operation and community involvement between the Harbord Village Residents’ Association and the Toronto District School Board”, says Tim Grant, Chair of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association.
The HVRA, the City of Toronto, the Palmerston Area Residents’ Association, along with former Ward 20 city councillor Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, achieved a settlement agreement with the TDSB, Razor Management, and Friends and Neighbours of Central Tech that all parties believe will prove to be satisfactory.
At issue was a commercial plan, put forward two years ago by the TDSB, to have a private firm, Razor Management, replace the natural grass playing field with artificial turf and enclose the field and running track with a dome during the winter months in order for Razor to operate the facility as a money-making enterprise outside of school hours.
The original plan was opposed by the HVRA and both ward councillors along with the newly-elected school trustee for several reasons:
The dome was too large for the site; artificial turf has an assortment of negative environmental impacts and health risks; only a small portion of the facility’s operating hours would be open to the local community; user fees could be prohibitively expensive for some people; traffic congestion and parking problems are likely to get worse, just to name a few of our biggest concerns.
In addition, soil sampling a year ago revealed contamination and, since then, all of the outdoor grounds have been locked up and remain out of bounds.
The HVRA’s opposition to the plan as originally proposed has always been to ensure that the benefits of the sports facility located in our downtown neighbourhood are realized for everyone involved—students and non-students alike—with minimal negative consequences for the neighbourhood as well as present and future generations of Central Tech students.
Leading up to mediation, the TDSB plan was first turned down at the Committee of Adjustment and then denied at Superior Court and later Divisional Court when the TDSB argued that school lands were theirs to dispose of as they saw fit. In January, the matter was brought before the Ontario Municipal Board, where mediation was presented as an option under the supervision of OMB Vice-Chair James McKenzie.
This process occurred within an atmosphere of mutual compromise and reconciliation. Over four days, working with HVRA’s lawyer and planner and teams from the seven parties, we came to a settlement proposal which was then ratified by various committees and the boards of the residents’ associations, and by Toronto City Council and the Toronto District School Board.
As a result, we are glad to report that, through a process of give and take on all sides, a mutually agreeable accord has been reached. In summary the agreement mitigates the impact of the project on the community, provides both for community access and community oversight and has the likelihood of an improvement of the streetscape on Bathurst and Harbord. Although it does not provide a perfect solution to every issue of concern to us and our members, the agreed-upon settlement represents a substantial improvement over the original TDSB plan.
Here are some of the settlement’s main points compared to the original plan:
Original Plan / Current Settlement
Dome footprint: 480 ft. x 250 ft. / Smaller footprint: 309 ft. x 215 ft.
Dome height: 80 ft. / Lower height: 59 ft.
Dome volume: 9,600,000 cubic ft. / Less volume: 3,919,665 cubic ft.
Maximum number of occupants: 300+ / Fewer occupants: 175 = reduced traffic demands
Off-peak parking study proves nothing / New study will examine amount of parking needed
Running track inside dome / Running track outside dome
Virtually no track time in non-dome months / 98% of track time in non-dome months
No community access to field inside dome / 17% access to field plus end zones inside dome
No help for underprivileged users / 10 hours free for local Neighbourhood group
No support for community programmes / $1,000/year for community swims at CT pool
No community input/control over facility / HVRA & PARA part of governance team
We pushed for natural turf and no dome at the bargaining table, but when this was no longer a realistic goal, our representatives negotiated the best deal they could hope to obtain under the circumstances.
The Minutes of Settlement that have been signed by all parties are available for viewing on the HVRA website. These still must be presented to the OMB for adoption on March 23, 9 a.m. Participants are still welcome to speak, if they wish.
You can also view a visual display of sketches and photographs produced by the City that illustrate better than any words the difference between the original proposal and the mediated settlement.
Chair HVRA March 6, 2015
The documents listed below (and linked to PDF files on our site) are relevant to points made in the HVRA message above:
- June 2012, TDSB, Request for Proposals for Central Tech Championship Field
- June 2013, TDSB (pp. 29ff.): Recommendation for Championship Field Development
- Oct. 2013, Razor Management Plans for 693 Bathurst Street
- Jan. 2014, HVRA: Letter to Members
- Mar. 2014, HVRA: Letter to Members
- Mar. 2014, Prof. John Danahy: Letter to Committee of Adjustment on Heat-Island Effect
- Mar. 2014, HVRA Chair: Letter to Committee of Adjustment
- Mar. 2014, Committee of Adjustment Decision (rejection of TDSB application for minor variance to build dome)
- June 2014, Superior Court Decision (rejection of TDSB appeal of C of A decision)
- Aug. 2014, Councillors Ceta Ramkhalawansingh and Mike Layton: Letter to TDSB
- Sept. 2014, Divisional Court Decision (rejection of TDSB appeal; TDSB proceeds to OMB appeal)
- Dec. 2014 for HVRA website, Wendy Smith: Traffic and Parking Effects
- Mar. 2015, OMB and other parties: Minutes of Settlement
- Mar. 2015, Toronto Planning: Differences between Original Proposal and Mediated Settlement (visuals)
- Mar. 2015, HVRA: Differences between Original Proposal and Mediated Settlement (table)
These two Excel files set out the results of a large-scale inventory undertaken by HVRA to guide City planning in the coming years. You can browse, search or filter to find what interests you:
- Harbord Village Building Inventory: Main and Inner Street Data
- Harbord Village Building Inventory: Lane Data
In January 2010, Gus Sinclair described the aims and methods of the project:
It is a truism to say that the City of Toronto is under enormous pressure to make room for a large increase in population. Where will they all go? Intensification will affect the downtown core for the foreseeable future. In Harbord Village, we will continue to see more applications at the Committee of Adjustment asking for variances that almost always involve “higher, bigger and more”; applications for bylaw revisions will be the same but only on a grander scale.
When such an application is made, the reaction of the directly affected neighbours and indeed HVRA is the same: what is the impact here? Is this where intensification belongs?
In 2005, the Board of HVRA began by raising the following questions about intensification:
Should we consider intensification in back lanes? on the periphery of the catchment area? on the main streets? in the interior ? in short—where?
When there seemed no ready answer, the Board then considered the question: is it possible to study Harbord Village in a systematic way so as to discover if there were a pattern or patterns that would help us to decide where intensification could occur in our neighbourhood with minimum impact on the stability and value of our community and conversely, where it would do the most damage.
In 2005, we decided to engage City Planning to see if they were interested in declaring HVRA an area of interest and come with ideas about how to apportion the impact of future projects. With all this as background, we can report that as of January 2009 these steps have been completed:
During 2005 and 2006, HVRA engaged several volunteers to walk the neighbourhood armed with pencils and a questionaire designed by Curt Oliver, taking down the information as raw data. This part was completed by the end of 2006.
We then engaged the services of Diane Silver, a planner in her own right, to take the raw data, check it against some of her own investigations, enter it on Excel spreadsheets and summarize it.
Diane finished her work in the late spring of 2007, producing the Excel files linked above. Her summary is essentially an inventory of every house in HVRA, with descriptions of the lot and use of the rear yards. It is organized and classified block by block according to several criteria: height, single family, flats, rooming house, row/semi/detached, width of lot, heritage value, modifications to facade, use of back yards and several others.
These data have been presented to the Planning Department for use in their deliberations in developing a Part II Plan. Our study has helped HVRA come to informed decisions in determining patterns for intensification inside Harbord Village, and it is now posted here for general interest and use.
One of the first major undertakings of the Harbord Village Residents Association was the revitalization of College Street between Bathurst and Spadina. In 2003, this stretch of College was described by the councillor for a neighbouring ward as “the most deteriorated main street in the city over the last 30 years.”
HVRA insisted that various works planned for this street over three or four years—replacement of sidewalks, pavement and streetcar tracks and upgrading of water and sewage mains—be done all at one time. This saved the city more than a million dollars, which HVRA secured for improvements to sidewalk layout, adding bicycle lanes, and planting 150 trees.
HVRA’s effort also extended to trying to improve how city hall manages sidewalks. Our work led to establishment of a new Public Realm Office. Its director was appointed early in 2009, an appointment that echoed Toronto’s earliest civic official: the Pathmaster first appointed in the late 18th century to ensure that property owners provided and maintained abutting sidewalks. The Public Realm director’s main job is to coordinate the actions of the 11 (!!) city and provincial agencies that have some responsibility for what happens on sidewalks.
HVRA also had a big influence on Toronto’s Pedestrian Charter and its Pedestrian Plan, both adopted in 2008. The Plan favours continuous straight clearways for pedestrians on main streets, close to storefronts. This means putting restaurant patios on the curb side of the clearway, as is done in many places elsewhere. (NOTE: Unfortunately the trials planned for 2006 and postponed to 2010 have never been implemented.)
HVRA’s work on College was spearheaded by its very active College Street Revitalization Committee, led by Brunswick Street resident and former HVRA treasurer Gord Brown. In February 2006, Gord made a presentation to the city’s Pedestrian Committee. It superbly sums up what we achieved in the physical reconstruction of the street and what we were (and still are) hoping for in terms of pedestrian clearways. This PDF document shows the vision for College Street in that period. (You may want to compare it with the ideas in the City’s preliminary College Street Planning Study of 2015.)