Second Units at the City of Toronto: Message from David Godley of Long Branch

Following message is from David Godley, a retired planner who lives in Long Branch (I have broken longer texts into shorter paragraphs, for ease in online reading):

SECOND UNITS, TORONTO DRAFT OFFICIAL PLAN AMENDMENT
(ATTACHED)

*

INTRODUCTION

Hello Jeremy and Sharon,

I attended the Etobicoke meeting of City of Toronto session on May 9 2018.
Thank you for hosting at the Etobicoke Civic Centre and in the evening.
I wish TLAB could learn a few things for you to prevent barriers to public engagement!

BACKGROUND

I led the OP/Zoning study on housing intensification in Hamilton in the early 90s in which secondary units were a major issue.

At that time I supported the way forward listed in The Ministry of Municipal Affairs “Second Units/ Info sheet, Spring 2017” including 1) Unit size being governed by Building Bylaws, 2) Tandem (driveway) parking , 3) no limit on age of building and 4) protection of streetscape. My colleagues were more conservative.

I spent the first 5 years of my retirement on the Committee of Adjustment, my second five years helping to defeat the first harmonisation zoning bylaw, and my next 5 years trying to rid the Province of the OMB, the ultimate in anti-planning.

I should add that I was only able to spend half an hour to the session.

ROUTES TO MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING

My first point is that Growth is not sustainable by definition. We live with finite resources. Regional planning and distribution of jobs was abandoned years ago after the heyday of Planning in the Crombie/ Davies years. Toronto has a job killing lack of infrastructure mostly caused by the political mishandling on the transit file. This causes clogged roads, economic malaise and a detriment to quality of life. Toronto needs to invest heavily in transit.

A pause is needed like Yonge/Eglintonand to divert jobs to other parts of the Province such as Hamilton, St Catherines and Windsor to name a few. Canada is a laggard when it comes to fast trains where the Quebec Montreal Toronto Kitchener/Hamilton Windsor access is only a twinkle in a few progressive’s eyes. Increase in gas tax seems politically difficult but this is where the money needs to come from. More expensive driving means more transit use. China built 16,000 miles of bullet train service from scratch in a little more than a decade.

So we are in a state of deadlock in Toronto. Regional planning would ease the need for affordable housing which in Toronto is also a threat to the economy. There is a huge surplus of land for affordable housing and all the needs could be accommodated easily within the Avenues according Jennifer K, the second Jane Jacobs. So while the Province’s thrust is welcome there are many ways to address the affordability issue.

We therefore should not go overboard allowing any number of secondary suites without controls and full public engagement is needed. There can be a case of too much where a neighbourhood may be threatened with destabilisation. This happened around McMaster Uni, although most of the problems came from overcrowding in other forms of housing. Long Branch is plagued by builders who let out their large number of properties to tenants who are seemingly encouraged to make life a misery for neigbours to run down the property and encourage support for severances with double density.

LIMITED IMPACT

Another thing is that while secondary suites seem to be the answer we heard that only 3,000 had been created in the last couple of decades, far fewer than illegally created where safety is an issue. To have to go through building permits where firewalls and doors and other upgrades is not an incentive to just do a few internal alterations.

The impact of the second unit initiative is not one to hang anyone’s hat on to bring prices down. However it does provide more affordability and accessibility to soldier houses which are destroying the distinct character of neighbourhoods across he City.

LIMITATION OF DRAFT OP AMENDMENT

The direction from the Province to have a policy in the Official Plan is probably superficially met by encouraging second units as proposed by the City. Since Second Units are already permitted in the OP in Detached, Semis and Town Houses, the wording put forward adds nothing.

It gives no direction or criteria expected from a local municipality and simply repeats what the Province says. This may be OK for a regional authority but inadequate where the next level is zoning.

I note that Klaus said there will be criteria. Fortunately we had planner Klaus at the meeting who knows the zoning inside out. His presence enabled us to understand what the issue is all about. This is for Etobians – amending the zoning to make it easier to have second units and getting rid of or lowering the 5 year time limit, minimum unit size, not adding to the house, and horizontal split.

ELABORATION OF POLICY

The policies therefore should be upfront on eliminating these items to justify implementation which will be through the zoning bylaw or variances.

Criteria should include the architectural and streetscape by ensuring the secondary suite is not apparent and that the building appear as say a detached house if that is the primary use.

Other criteria should be added to protect the neighbourhood including how parking works. It is legitimate to have different performance standards to inner City suburbs since density is more important nearer the centre. Also services are more readily available in the old City of Toronto.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN LONG BRANCH

Second units are important in Long Branch because we are plagued with highly inappropriate development which degrades of Long Branch’s special character. Density is low (0.35) to conserve the character defined by a recently adopted Character Guidelines. Unfortunately the OMB who generally do not grasp planning especially urban design are unable to give sound planning decisions.

The development planners have found a way to equate any building in the neighbourhood as a precedent to allow more of the same and the Planning Department using an irrational study area to allow this to happen (Thank you for your letter Gregg, I will reply at some point but understand your position). Consequently the neighbourhood is being overwhelmed with “soldier houses” which on narrow lots and double density define the type of development that is inappropriate.

To intensify by allowing secondary suites is a far preferable option and achieves affordable housing for families rather than unaffordable disabled inaccessible housing which destroys trees and look grossly out of scale and with massing that harms neighbours enjoyment of their property. As Klaus mentioned, with any zoning amendment there are two sets of property rights affected.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

Since my attendance ensured that there were more members of the public than staff, this harmless looking Official Plan amendment means that very few are paying attention and everyone at the table was for the Ministry changes. The Official Pan Amendment is so interlinked with zoning and the zoning is what most people relate to. Therefore the Official Plan and Zoning amendments should be dealt with together. It is not appropriate to bind the general public with an Official Policy without input on zoning at the same time.

I am afraid this is all I have time for at the moment!

Yours truly, David Godley, May 10 2018

401 Lake Promenade, Toronto. M8W 1C3

Attachment 1: Draft Official Plan Amendment

City of Toronto By-law No. -20~ AMENDMENT NO. ~~~ TO THE OFFICIAL PLAN OF THE CITY OF TORONTO

Section 3.2.1 Housing, is amended by:

1. Adding the following policy as a new Policy 10:
“Second units will be encouraged to increase the supply and availability of rental housing across the city and within neighbourhoods. Second units may be provided within or ancillary to a detached or semi-detached house or townhouse.

2. Adding the following new sidebar adjacent to new Policy 10:
“Second units are self-contained residential units subordinate to a primary dwelling, in
which both kitchen and bathroom facilities are provided. They may also be referred to as a secondary suite, basement apartment, accessory apartment, granny flat, in-law apartment or nanny suite.”

 

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