A moment of opportunity in Toronto's Urban Planning Process
The City of Toronto has just launched, in June 2005, a consultation process with its citizenry on changing the development application process. City Planning staff are recommending a voluntary pre-application, review, and consultation process for projects requiring an Official Plan amendment or re-zoning application.
They are currently seeking input from citizens in a series of Town Hall meetings and workshops across the City. This presents an opportunity to developers to show leadership by seeking to comply, where it makes sense, in advance of the fact. It also provides a sense of where such leadership could make itself felt. Public education and outreach work successfully in many industries.
To-date the development industry has most often relied on the municipalities, elected officials or academic or professional associations to provide this service. Where resident and business leaders and their constituencies have an enhanced knowledge base of the development industry, the options intensification presents for City building, such as economic growth, neighbourhood development and enhanced environmental outcomes, it should be possible to move the discourse away from NIMBY shibboleths.
In seeking to address, to the extent that a given projects economics permit, hot button issues such as height or density, too often issues of urban design, architectural excellence, heritage preservation or interpretation, and spin off community benefits are given shorter shrift. When this happens no one benefits. Intensification is only going to increase and development pressure on available land will accelerate, despite the prospect of building in such areas as the West Don Lands, East Bayfront, and eventually the Port Lands.
There are already many more economically obvious sites along major arterials, “parking lot” sites, and scattered brownfields across the City. In each case there will likely be sets of NIMBY and AMNE arguments against the very sort of development that can make a reasonable rate of return for developers, accomplish the City’s needs to provide new housing, and revitalize neighbourhoods.
By seeking to take a proactive lead in providing opportunities for public education, engagement and advance consultation with the public at large and appropriate stakeholders, the development industry can set a new standard of good corporate citizenship and more importantly build a greater support base, and ultimately reduce the instances where OMB appeals are required.
Another consideration for considering a more consistent and proactive consultative approach is the impending City of Toronto act, which includes the real possibility that Toronto may be given broad new powers in respect to planning, including the possibility of a partial exemption from the jurisdiction of the OMB. It is likely that the City’s move to discus a new pre-application review process is emboldened by the sense that the rules of the game are about to change.