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Regulating Tall Building Setbacks in Downtown Toronto

Sep 19, 2016

On September 7, 2016, Toronto and East York Community Council (“TEYCC”) considered a Planning Staff Report dated May 27, 2016 and Supplementary Staff Report dated August 31, 2016 that recommended that City Council amend the City of Toronto Official Plan, Zoning By-law No. 438-86, and Zoning By-law No. 569-2013 to update the City’s policies and performance standards for setbacks for tall buildings in Downtown Toronto.  This item was initially considered at the June 14, 2016 meeting of the TEYCC and deferred to the September 7, 2016 meeting.

Staff’s recommendations regarding the proposed amendments were adopted by the TEYCC on September 7, 2016 and are scheduled to be considered by City Council on October 5, 2016.

The proposed amendments are a first step in the City’s initiative to develop an integrated planning framework for Downtown Toronto as part of TOcore: Planning Toronto’s DowntownTOcore: Planning Toronto’s Downtown is an inter-divisional study led by City Planning that is intended to result in the development of a Secondary Plan for Downtown Toronto.

The proposed Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments would apply to the area generally bounded by Bathurst Street to the west, Lake Ontario to the south, the Don River to the east, and Rosedale Valley Road and the CPR Tracks to the north.  The amendments are intended to reflect the separation distances set out in the City’s Tall Building Design Guidelines (the “TBDG”) for the tower portion of a tall building.

Tall Building Design Guidelines

The TBDG were adopted by City Council to “assist with implementation of Official Plan policy and provide design direction for tall buildings in Toronto”.  The TBDG are used by the City to evaluate tall building proposals and design alternatives in Official Plan amendments, Zoning By-law amendments, plans of subdivision, and site plan control applications. 

Key performance measures in the TBDG include the provision of a minimum separation distance of 25 metres between towers on the same site and a minimum tower setback of 12.5 metres from certain lot lines.  The weight to be given to these performance measures has been the subject of considerable discussion in several Ontario Municipal Board proceedings involving tall building proposals in Downtown Toronto.  Some of the discussion regarding the applicability of the performance measures in the TBDG could become moot in relation to the Downtown, if the Official Plan and Zoning By-law amendments recommended by City Planning come into force.

Proposed Official Plan Amendment (“OPA”)

The OPA proposed by City Planning in the Supplementary Staff Report would introduce a new Site and Area Specific Policy No. 517 (“SASP 517”) in Chapter 7 of the Official Plan.  SASP 517 would apply to tall building development proposals in the Downtown.

The proposed OPA sets out the overall purpose, intent and desired outcomes of establishing minimum setbacks for tall buildings in the Downtown.  It does not contain specific minimum numerical standards, but provides that such standards will be contained in Zoning By-laws.  It also provides that Zoning By-law amendments may be considered through rezoning or minor variance provided the intent of the policies set out in SASP 517 is met.

As indicated in the proposed OPA, any Area Specific Official Plan Amendment within the Central Waterfront Secondary Plan Area will prevail over SASP 517.

Proposed Zoning By-law Amendments (“ZBLAs”)

The two proposed ZBLAs would amend the former City of Toronto Zoning By-law No. 438-86, which is still in effect for many sites in Downtown Toronto, and Zoning By-law No. 569-2013.  The proposed ZBLAs would establish specific setbacks for the tower component of tall buildings.  The tower is that portion of a building that is higher than 24 metres.

The minimum tower setbacks proposed by City Planning in the ZBLAs are:

  • 3 metres to a lot line that abuts a street and 12.5 metres to the centre line of that street;
  • 12.5 metres to the centre line of an abutting lane; and
  • 12.5 metres to a lot line having no abutting street or lane.

Every tower must also be separated from any other tower on the same lot by at least 25 metres.

As indicated in the proposed ZBLAs, none of the proposed tower setback provisions would apply to  prevent the continued use of a tower constructed pursuant to a building permit issued prior to October 4, 2016.  They would also not apply to prevent the erection or use of a tower permitted by the site and area specific by-laws listed in the proposed ZBLAs.  The proposed ZBLAs also list certain Section 12(2) exceptions of Zoning By-law No. 438-86 that would prevail over the setback requirements of the ZBLAs.

Author(s): Sharmini Mahadevan

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