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Thu, 18 Jan 2007
In a recent decision of the Ontario Municipal Board, the body set up to appeal certain municipal decisions, the City of Toronto was essentially told that once it determines that an area is mixed use, it loses the right to determine what the mix should be or what the density or the distribution of uses can be.
This is a major setback to the ability to achieve smart growth: past decisions have always allowed this in both residential-only and employment-only land.
The decision comes after a high-rise project on Queen Street West which had been changed by city planners to redistribute the density and put minimum and maximum proportions of business and residential uses, was appealed, with the developer facing off against the city and the residents.
The Ontario Municipal Board approved essentially the developer's original plan for several towers (between 10 and 26 storeys) in a Victorian-era neighbourhood characterized by art galleries, low-rent studios and retail stores. The official plan and planning decisions were intended to protect the character of the neighbourhood, and in particular the ability to live and work in the same area.
According to the Board's decision, "If the City is intending to rely on the securing of a specific amount of employment land use on individual sites based on a quantifiable goal for each planning area, district or neighbourhood, [...] designation of exclusive employment districts offers a more objective approach in that regard." In other words, if you want the right to do planning, you must stick to separation of uses.
The board ordered the city not only to approve the development, but to change its official plan to remove limits on density and on mix of uses. Needless to say, I think this decision is appalling and makes it impossible to implement smart growth strategies in Ontario.