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Old Posted Aug 10, 2019, 7:00 PM
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Is Lot Splitting A Good Way To Increase Housing Density?

Is Lot Splitting A Good Way To Increase Housing Density?

Aug. 6, 2019

By Cherise Burda & David Godley

Read More: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/cont...e-density.html



Toronto is facing a housing affordability crisis and single-detached neighbourhoods are, unfortunately, growing increasingly exclusive. Meanwhile, our population is growing fast. Adding new housing throughout the city, including in desirable residential neighbourhoods made up of mostly detached houses, is key to supporting a healthy, inclusive region.

- This combination of an affordability crisis and rapidly growing population is why city council recently voted overwhelmingly in support of Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão and Mayor John Tory’s motion to study opportunities to accommodate new forms of housing in our residential neighbourhoods. Adding gentle density to detached-residential neighbourhoods is critical. These areas occupy approximately 70 per cent of the total land zoned for residential uses in the city. Restricting these neighbourhoods from changing and densifying means these areas will become even more exclusive than they already are. — Furthermore, if we expect families and other large households to continue to find a home in Toronto we are going to need to build more than just tall condos in high growth nodes. This means finding ways to encourage and allow other forms of housing, like new laneway units, townhouses, multiplexes and lowrise apartments.

- While the city’s population is growing, the population of most detached neighbourhoods is aging and declining, leading many residents in these areas to be overhoused: a study by the Canadian Association for Economic Analysis estimates that Toronto contains 2.2 million empty bedrooms. — Finding new ways to add housing to these areas like lot splitting, or converting single-family homes into duplexes or triplexes will help ensure we are using our residential land efficiently. It would offer seniors an opportunity to downsize and unlock home equity while aging in place, and provide more attainable options for new neighbours to move in. The population added could help reverse the trend of school closures. It would also help support local services, transit, and the cafes and restaurants that people love in their neighbourhoods.

- Toronto is not alone in reconsidering what forms of development should be permitted in residential neighbourhoods, Minneapolis, facing its own affordability crisis, recently developed a new city plan and zoning bylaw that allows more density along transit routes, and allows for triplexes anywhere that currently allows for single-detached homes. — What’s compelling is that the movement to change zoning in Minneapolis was led in part by owners of detached houses in single-family neighbourhoods who recognized the need and the benefits of adding gentle density to their community. They called themselves “Neighbours for More Neighbours.” We have the opportunity to do the same.




Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods are the jewels in its crown. The city’s prime planning strategy is to strengthen their character to attract business and jobs. Lately, increasing housing prices, driven by global pressure, have limited opportunities for ownership and affordability. At the same time population in some neighbourhoods is dropping, meaning existing services may be underused. Paradoxically, single person households are increasing.

- There is a skew between housing stock and the needs of citizens. The greatest need is for small rental units, which might include plexes, rent geared to income, rooming houses, and conversion of underused space in neighbourhoods on a microscale. In the last 10 years land division on undersized lots has been eroding the character of neighbourhoods and destroying the very features that attracted residents. Long Branch neighbourhood, for example, loses about one tree for each severance; the city aims for a 40 per cent tree canopy. — Across Toronto generic houses on severed lots have been approved, which optimize owner benefits. These are sometimes as much as double the permitted density in older neighbourhoods with prominent garages deadening the streetscape. They do not fit.

- This trend not only destroys existing affordable housing through demolition but makes all neighbourhoods more similar. It is an aggressive form of intensification. Effectively, the development industry was determining what should be built in neighbourhoods. How did this come to be? First, the development-oriented Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) took little notice of city planners or the public. Second the Committee of Adjustment (COA), which decides applications, appears to ignore the planning and legal framework. The city responded by setting up its own mini OMB, an appeal body called Toronto Local Appeal Body (TLAB), which hears land division and minor variance appeals. The refusal rate for land division has escalated since the demise of the OMB.

- A large number of severances have had impacts on neighbours, such as blocking views, overshadowing, overlook and overpowering high walls, not to mention the tree canopy destruction. New tall narrow houses, soldier houses tower over lower structures. The city, to its credit, had urban design consultants identify the defined neighbourhood features of Long Branch, so any proposal can be evaluated easily. The neighbourhood is cited because, with Willowdale, it has most severance proposals across the city. — Currently, Long Branch residents are opposing 12 land division/variance applications at hearings, which last up to a week. This is a massive burden on volunteer citizens. TLAB has made rational and reasoned decisions. Most neighbourhoods have few resources to oppose what developers want.

- The myth of a housing land shortage should be squelched. There are enough housing units approved to last 20 years in Toronto with very large numbers of applications in the pipeline. Theoretically, all the needed housing can be accommodated along main streets. This is the appropriate place for co-ops, plexes and rooming houses, as well as innovative housing. There are large tracts of land with development potential. So, yes, there is a need to review how population can be increased in neighbourhoods with good development. But land severance is not the way to go unless variances are minimal. It is a travesty of justice to allow applicants to effectively commandeer existing private rights of those who have perhaps invested their life savings in their family house.


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