As housing prices continue to rise in Canada’s major cities, the debate over how to deal with affordable prices often comes down to where, how and when to build more housing in existing neighborhoods.
At the macro level, there are election promises from federal and provincial governments claiming to “say yes” to building millions of new homes. But at the micro level, it is not difficult to find examples of bitter struggles over the status quo in most cities.
An application by Haven Developments to take two single-family homes in the Toronto Deer Park neighborhood and turn them into a 12-unit apartment highlights all the legal and political forces waging war to build even a single new apartment in Canada’s largest city.
“We are replacing two households with 12, and this is a very large piece of land for two homes,” said architect Roland Rom Colthoff, of RAW Design, who is making the plans for the 101-103 Heath St. proposal. “We started working on this in 2018; we are three years into the process and it’s still nowhere. I have much larger buildings that sailed through approvals. And you wonder why we have a housing crisis.”
GLOBE AND POST, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPEN-
GLOBE AND POST, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPEN STREET MAP
GLOBE AND POST, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS
The project is typically lacking intermediate typology: neither a six- to twelve-story mid-rise nor a single-family home. It’s three stories high with a parking garage, and it’s in a neighborhood that has other apartment buildings of the same scale literally across the street. All that is required to build is some minor deviation approvals from Toronto’s Committee of Adjustment (COA) on setbacks and a solution for some mature trees bordering the nearby lots.
The project was put to a vote in Toronto’s Committee of Adjustment in July, but a decision was postponed until December. Toronto-St. Paul’s councilor Josh Matlow does not have a vote on the COA and will not have a vote in the council on the development because the project, unlike the typical high-rise, does not require legislative changes to continue. Nevertheless, he says he called on the committee to postpone a decision to hold a community meeting between Haven and its neighbors in the hope of creating a dialogue on compromise.
“All the neighbors around the place are objecting to the project, it’s really penetrating their properties,” said Cathie MacDonald, chairman of the Deer Park Residents Group, and herself an architect and former city planner. It’s about the depth of the building and the proximity to the backyards of multi-million dollar houses on Deer Park Crescent. The concerns about privacy have led to suggestions that all the windows on the second floor are frosted glass, that they are smaller and that there are no walkways along the fence line (for fear of noise from partying). So far, the attempts at dialogue do not seem to have worked. “We saw some new drawings and it did not seem to change much. … I think, as far as I know, it’s all resistance. I have not heard of anyone saying they support it, ”MacDonald said.
The garden was last in the news in 2019 when it canceled a 140-unit condominium project at 625 Sheppard Ave. known as Six25BV. In this case, delays contributed to the project’s failure, as prices before construction in 2016 were no longer economically viable in 2019.
Paolo Abate, Haven’s CEO, said he has had nothing but constructive communication with urban planning, but blames NIMBYism’s policies for the delays in this new, much smaller project.
“Homes of this kind should not take the same timeline for an apartment that is 200-units plus,” Abate said.
Jordan M. Teperman, executive vice president and attorney general at Haven, said Haven has compiled a dozen examples of COA applications of the same kind of height and setback for single-family homes that were approved without delay. That said, he acknowledges that these apartments will be luxury property units in the area and are not designed to be part of the puzzle at an affordable price.
“There are some people who will look at this and say that this is an example of the larger discussion in our city … to make it an existential discussion around the missing center,” Mr Matlow said. But he rejects this framing, saying he simply had concerns about Haven’s willingness to listen to society.
“Muliti family is definitely not the issue, apartment buildings are allowed in the area,” said Ms MacDonald, noting that her own grandmother had lived in one of the rental apartments at Heath, which is the same size and size as the proposed Haven building . What changed, she said, is that when these low-rise blocks were built in the 1950s, there was no restrictive zoning. “They are not in agreement now,” she said. In essence, city laws would not allow the mixed-income district to be built today.
The question of what change the city is willing to accept is a hot topic, after recent town hall debates pointed to widely studied housing proposals, e.g. Legalization and regulation of room houses throughout the city.
“If it’s just an argument from someone that changes can never happen, it’s not fair. What I do not accept is that it is only a supply of new housing that will be the antidote to solving the housing crisis at an affordable price, ”said Mr Matlow, pointing to the boom in high-rise buildings that have not lowered prices, and at the same time lack of cheap design and subsidized housing construction in recent decades. “What I am convinced of is that the status quo is not sustainable.”
Mr. Matlow, who according to a recent report from Acorn Canada is among the Toronto councilors who have accepted the smallest amount in political donations from the development industry, says he is waiting to see the investigation into the lack of center from Toronto chief planner Gregg Lintern before he arrives down on whether single-family zone areas in the city — two-thirds of the residential areas referred to as Yellowbelt — should be re-regulated to allow for more types of duplex, triplex or multi-storey apartments as at Heath.
But if the example of Haven’s plan for Heath is a guide, even dramatic statute reforms may not be enough to turn on the taps in new housing. The COA vote in December is by no means the end of the road for opponents.
“I fully expect them to appeal,” Colthoff said of Deer Park residents. “They have deep pockets, they’re sad.”
Your house is your most valuable asset. We have a weekly Real Estate Newsletter to help you stay up to date on housing market news, mortgages, recent closures and more. Sign up today.