Toronto’s Multiplex Bylaw needs more work – please send an email by April 26, 2023
The following message is from Christine Mercado, Chair of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association in Toronto.
Toronto needs more multiplexes. But it needs to be done right and Protect Trees. Why you should Oppose what is going to Planning and Housing Committee Apr 27th.
Floor Space Index (FSI) is a term used in urban planning that refers to the ratio of the total floor area of a building to the size of the plot of land it’s built on.
FSI is calculated by dividing the total floor area of a building by the lot area. For example, if a building has a total floor area of 10,000 square feet and is built on a lot 20,000 square feet, the FSI would be 0.5. In the case of Long Branch, the FSI of .35 permits a home of approximately 2600sq ft on most lots with a 15.24m (50 ft) frontage.
FSI is contained in the bylaws to ensure that buildings don’t cause overcrowding in neighbourhoods. Its an important planning tool to help balance the needs of developers, community and environment, specifically trees. In understanding how FSI is important you also have to understand some other terms.
“As-of-right” is a zoning term that means property owners are allowed to use their land for a particular purpose without seeking additional approval from the City. Their plans are compliant with the existing bylaws and do not have variances. They simply need to apply for a building permit.
A “protected tree” is a tree that is legally designated for protection. Every tree in the City of Toronto over 30cm diameter is protected. Heritage and boundary trees also have different levels of protection. Finally, all City trees are protected, regardless of size.
A “bylaw” is a legally binding regulation created by a municipality to regulate various activities within their jurisdiction.
City Planning wants to introduce bylaw amendments to permit multiplexes as-of-right everywhere in the City of Toronto. In Long Branch, in our RD zone, a multiplex would be:
- Permitted to be 19m long, where single detached homes can be a maximum of 17m long
- Have 10m high walls where 9.5m is the maximum height to the roof peak for single detached
- FSI would be eliminated for a multiplex.
- No requirement for multiplexes to be affordable. In fact, the bigger they are the higher the rent
Where we have the concern is the depth and the elimination of FSI, both are limitations that are described in the currently existing bylaws.
The City proposes that the General Manager, Parks, Forestry, and Recreation has the authority to refuse a tree removal permit for the construction of a multiplex. This is not a bylaw amendment; it is a motion. While that is a nice thing to say, we doubt it will hold up if challenged in court.
The General Manager can also issue a tree removal permit to make way for the construction of an as-of-right building. This is a bylaw.
Generally, a person cannot override a bylaw. Bylaws are created through a democratic process, and reflect the collective will of the community. What this policy is proposing is that an as-of-right building can be stopped by a person. A builder with deep enough pockets could take this to court, win, get their tree removal permit and build their multiplex.
We have proven the opposite when we saved the Black Barn Maple from destruction at 95 James. The building was not as-of-right because the applicant was asking for an FSI variance.
Under the proposed multiplex policy, the FSI bylaw is removed and the General Manager, Parks, Forestry, and Recreation would have to step in ruling against the City’s own bylaw, exposing the City to a legal battle. Ultimately the Black Barn Maple would be removed for an as-of-right building, because the City has to comply with its own bylaw.
I’m not a lawyer, just someone who has spent too much time in hearings trying to protect trees. From what I see, this is a long game. Once FSI is eliminated from multiplexes, it is the first step eliminating it from every new house built and no tree would be protected, on the redeveloped property or the property next door.
As a neighbourhood with trees, to protect our tree canopy, we need FSI to remain as part of the multiplex policy. The population of Toronto is growing and we need more housing – particularly affordable housing. But more people also need more trees, including the ones we already have.
The Multiplex By-law is not approved yet. You can and should support more density in neighbourhoods but only with corresponding Tree Protection that actually works.
We need as many people as possible to write in to the Planning and Housing Committee and/or sign up to depute by Wednesday, April 26th or this will go through and be passed by City Council on May 10th. (See suggested letter below)
Christine Mercado is the Chair of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association.
Please copy and paste (or adapt) the following message and send it by Sept 26 to the emails listed below
Subject: PH3.16 – Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods: Multiplex Study – Final Report
Dear Chair and Members of the Planning and Housing Committee
I agree that Toronto needs more multiplexes, particularly in Neighbourhoods where populations are declining, and infrastructure exists. But the current by-laws in front of you are flawed and needs to be sent back to staff to be revised before going to City Council.
Major changes that need to be made to the Multiplex bylaw:
1. Building Depth should not be more than 17m
2. Floor Space Index (FSI) must be retained (to regulate the mass and size of the building on the lot)
3. Meet provincial government requirements of 3 units (NOT exceed it with 4 units as the City Planners are recommending)
The benefits of making these 3 changes are:
- Preservation of the environment and neighbourhood trees. FSI and Building Depth are one of the few tools that protect mature trees. They ensure sufficient soft landscaping and space for trees to be retained and thrive. Removing FSI and increasing building depth to 19m will be devastating to our tree canopy and will destroy healthy, trees on many redeveloped lots in most single detached neighbourhoods.
- With intensification in neighbourhoods, we will get more people. More people need more trees. Planting trees elsewhere in the city instead of retaining trees where people live is not the right approach for a liveable, equitable, sustainable environment for all.
- Going from 1 housing unit on a lot (the majority situation in single detached neighbourhoods) to 3 units will meet the provincial requirements and allow gentle density which is the goal for becoming the welcoming city of diversity and fight the housing crisis. It will be more affordable to build and encourage existing residents to renovate into multiplexes. Permitting 4 units will just provide more investment opportunities for developers and the few who can afford them and will not generate more affordable rental housing.
- Keeping building depth at 17m and keeping FSI will ensure that new multiplexes fit in with single detached neighbourhoods and with existing multiplexes in neighbourhoods that already permit them. Removing FSI and increasing building depth beyond what is currently permitted for multiplexes will encourage developers and investors to tear them down and replace them with newer, larger and much more expensive units prematurely.
I have no confidence with how the current Municipal Code Chapter 813 is written, that the General Manager of Parks, Forestry and Recreation will be successful overriding the as-of-right provision in the bylaw; refusing tree removal permits and refusing the construction of Multiplexes given the large, form-based approach to Multiplexes with no consideration for whether the lot or neighbouring lots have mature, large trees. Forestry staff have advised that this has not been proven and we see healthy trees routinely destroyed if they are within or near an as-of-right building footprint.
We are in the midst of a mayoral race. I request that you send these Multiplex by-laws back to staff to revise and come back after the election with better by-laws that encourage affordable unit Multiplexes in neighbourhoods and save our trees that contribute to a livable, healthy City.
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