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One way of making better use of scarce residential land we have in the GTA is to intensify housing.
The City of Toronto’s official policy is pro-intensification. But its planning department seems to be actively opposed to squeezing more housing onto existing land.
The case of Mr. A and Mr. B is a good example of the city working against its own policy and opposing an application by the two owners to create three houses where only two existed previously.
M. A and Mr. B owned adjoining parcels of land close to North York’s downtown area and less than 500 metres from the North York Centre subway station.
Each parcel has a frontage of 15.24 metres (50 feet), with the two properties together having a combined frontage of 30.48 metres (100 feet).
Each parcel had one house which complied with current zoning regulations. The owners proposed to demolish both houses and create three lots and three new houses.
They applied to the Toronto Committee of Adjustment for permission to split the two parcels — a procedure called a severance. The plan was to create a westerly parcel 9.76 metres (32 feet) wide, plus a middle and an easterly parcel each 10.35 metres (33.95 feet) wide.
The proposed houses for the three new lots would be marginally larger and longer than permitted by the North York zoning bylaw. So the owners sought zoning variances for construction on the three lots.
City planners opposed the property division into three lots; the Committee of Adjustment turned down the owners’ applications.
The owners then appealed to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (formerly the Ontario Municipal Board), and the hearing took place last year before tribunal member Gerald Swintin.
The issue the tribunal had to decide was whether the proposed land severance would “respect and reinforce the physical character of the neighbourhood, especially with regard to the proposed size and configuration of the lots.”
According to the owners, their proposal conformed to the goals of the city’s official plan, “to ensure the replenishment and replacement of housing in the neighbourhoods and preferably achieve some level of intensification, in a manner where the dwellings will fit within the character of the neighbourhood.”
In opposing the owners, the city took the position that “the magnitude of the reduction in lot frontage and lot area is significant and would result in a set of lots which fail to remain in character with the area.”
Much of the evidence before the tribunal involved comparing lot frontages in the local area, and somewhat farther afield.
A neighbour who objected to the proposal feared that “the narrowness of the lots will disrupt the current spacing and rhythm of the street, and that it will result in two ‘cookie cutter’ houses.”
I didn’t realize city streets had rhythm.
Another neighbour did not understand “why the owners can’t simply build two new homes on the two lots.”
In the end, the tribunal swept aside the City’s objections and allowed all five appeals of the owners.
Bob Aaron is a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @bobaaron2