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Guidelines for Residential Infill Development in Toronto Neighbourhoods

SvN’s Long Branch Character Guidelines was unanimously approved by Council last week.

Neighbourhood Character Guidelines: Building a Template
Posted with permission of the publisher of NRU Publishing Inc. Original article first appeared in Novae Res Urbis – Toronto, Vol. 21, No. 46, Friday, November 24, 2017. Article written by Dominik Matusik.

In an effort to control residential infill development, Toronto planners are creating guidelines for neighbourhood character in two pilot communities, with the intention of developing a template that can be used in other parts of the city. Last week, Etobicoke York Community Council voted unanimously in favour of council approving the Long Branch Character Guidelines. These are the culmination of a study examining the various natural and built-form elements that make up the character of Long Branch. These guidelines are designed to give builders, staff, and the community clarity about the type of infill that is appropriate.

Currently, staff is undertaking a similar study in part of the North York neighbourhood of Willowdale. Both Long Branch and Willowdale have long been the focus of development pressures that have resulted in lot-splitting and the construction of homes many residents considered to be out of character with their neighbourhoods. Ward 23 Willowdale councillor John Filion told NRU that in his ward the volume and negative impacts of infill housing has been overwhelming. “If you made a list of all the possible negative impacts [of infill housing], I could put a checkmark beside all of them,” he says. “…The volume is astonishing. Last time I counted, I have more [infill housing developments] just in my ward than, say, all of Scarborough put together. Certainly more [committee of adjustment] applications than anywhere else in the city. Hardly anybody builds without going to the CofA. Part of the fundamental problem is that there aren’t too many homebuilders anymore, there are people who buy land and build a house, and [they] aren’t too concerned about city rules or regulations.” Part of the issue is that new infill houses often don’t respect the neighbourhood’s character. However, determining what character a particular neighbourhood actually has can be tricky. Toronto urban design program manager James Parakh told NRU that similar concerns from different neighbourhoods prompted staff to explore the idea of creating a template for character studies that can be used across the city.

“Many years ago, we began to hear citywide—not just in the two pilot areas—that the character of neighbourhoods is eroding,” he says. “So we embarked upon what we started as a city-wide template. And then that citywide template can actually be used by various community groups, or city staff, in different neighbourhood to embark on specific character guidelines for a neighbourhood.” Parakh says that, given the diversity of neighbourhoods in Toronto, the template cannot be specific to a particular area, but rather allow each neighbourhood that uses it to develop its set of unique guidelines. “The template is broad and has a number of categories: things like building height, scale, fenestration, materiality, roof pitch. But then it’s the role of the individual guidelines to actually do a deeper dive and a character analysis. So that’s looking at a broad study area and then understanding nuances. [Where] are the streets where [built form] is very eclectic? [The] Long Branch guidelines clearly say that streets like Lakefront Promenade, along the lakeshore, have a very eclectic character. So many homes are different and, therefore, that’s what that street is all about. Whereas other areas have a very in-tact character… We’re not saying mimic the house, but we’re saying to follow certain aspects that will make it part of the character.”

The city retained consultants SvN Architects + Planners to assist with the project. Council will consider Etobicoke York Community Council’s recommendations on the Long Branch guidelines at its meeting December 5. The Willowdale study is ongoing. Staff anticipate taking the refined city-wide template to Planning and Growth Management Committee in 2018.

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