at a construction site

Report re-evaluates mid-rise development rules

Friday, May 1, 2015

A new report from the Pembina Institute examines how changes to development rules could improve GTA neighbourhoods and increase the region’s supply of family-friendly mid-rise homes. The report, Make Way for Mid-Rise: How to build more homes in walkable, transit-connected neighbourhoods, identifies barriers to development and offers five solutions for creating economically viable mid-rise buildings.

According to the report, the Ontario government’s recent decision to amend the building code and allow for six-storey wood frame structures could encourage more mid-rise development. Similar changes were implemented in British Columbia in 2009 and, since then, over 250 new mid-rise projects were developed in the province. In addition to this building code revision, the report recommends the following development rule changes:

  • Require minimum densities along rapid transit lines – the GTA’s current Growth Plan sets targets for urban growth centres, but not for transit corridors, stations and mobility hubs;
  • Eliminate minimum parking requirements – new developments must include a minimum number of parking spaces and mid to high-rise parking the GTA is particularly costly which can be discouraging for developers. By eliminating minimum requirements, developers can provide an appropriate number of spaces for a development based on its character, location, walkability and transit access;
  • Pre-approve mid-rise development along avenues and transit corridors – developers looking to build in neighbourhoods with excellent transit access have to go through lengthy, expensive and uncertain approval processes in order to amend zoning bylaws. A development permit system (DPS) could replace this outdated case-by-case process, thereby encouraging new developments;
  • Require retail planning before mid-rise buildings are built – if ground level retail establishments fail as a result of poor planning, it can create financial problems for the developer and reduce a neighbourhood’s overall appeal. By making retail planning and design a mandatory step in the development process this risk would be minimized or eliminated; and
  • Make parkland dedication rules more equitable – when housing is being built, a developer must set aside part of the land they are developing for parkland, but when there isn’t enough space, cash is provided directly to the City for its park budget. These costs, which can account for up to $37,000 of the cost of a condominium, for example, are often passed onto homebuyers. The cash-in-lieu formulas are particularly skewed against mid and high-rise developments (low density developments tend to pay less), a fact that discourages many developers from building at all.

“The GTA is growing at an extraordinary pace, but without the right rules and incentives, that growth won’t take the ideal shape,” says Cherise Burda, Ontario Director at the Pembina Institute. “We need to capitalize on opportunities to build around transit lines and to provide more family-friendly, medium-density housing options.”


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