Neighbourhood Zoning – “The Missing Middle”

Toronto’s housing stock is made up mostly of single homes and highrises – with a relatively small amount of townhouses, duplexes and four-storey walk-ups.

Recently, housing advocates have begun calling for planning changes in areas such as Willowdale, where they believe this “missing middle” should be allowed alongside single homes on neighbourhood streets.

This would be a major departure from rules that exist now, and a reversal of a city promise to residents not that long ago when the city adopted a new Official Plan. Accept high densities on major streets, we were told, and all the rest will be preserved.

How quickly times have changed. At Council’s July meeting, Mayor John Tory and the chair of the city’s Planning and Housing Committee introduced a motion for Planning staff to look at opening up neighbourhood zoning restrictions and to report back before the end of the year.

I voted against the motion, partly because it had arrived out-of-the-blue, without dialogue with community associations.

Here’s what I’m worried about:

  • Uncertainty about planning rules inevitably leads to more land speculation, which in turn drives up housing costs.
  • In places like Willowdale, the four-storey walk-up that housing advocates imagine could instead become four-storey “monster” homes or Airbnb mini-hotels.
  • In some quarters, preserving the character of neighbourhoods is seen as a bad thing.

New approaches to addressing problems is almost always a good thing. But we need to make sure that we approach this issue thoughtfully, with respect for our neighbourhoods, and without unleashing a new round of land speculation.

There may well be ways to allow some change and to create stability at the same time. I look forward to exploring that possibility with you.

– John

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