Skip to content

Province expected to mandate greater density in Toronto: sources

Big changes could be coming to neighbourhoods around transit stations
The sun sets over Toronto.

The Ford government is due to weigh in soon on Toronto’s plan for developments around major transit stations, and sources close to the matter say they’re expecting it to overrule the city and impose a "firehose" of density.

Three planning industry sources, one close to City Hall and one close to the Ford government with some knowledge of the province’s plans say they have the potential to reshape the look and feel of large swaths of the city.

The provincial amendments to the city's plans are expected as soon as next week.

While much attention has been paid to the Ford government's pro-sprawl housing strategies, it's also aiming to add density in cities — especially around transit stations. 

Toronto is required by provincial law to set minimum density standards around transit, in areas called Major Transit Station Areas (MTSAs) or Protected Major Transit Station Areas (PMTSAs). Those areas are defined as the 500- to 800-metre radius around a transit station. 

A map of MTSAs (white) and PMTSAs (yellow) in Toronto. City of Toronto

PMTSAs are eligible for inclusionary zoning, meaning new projects would have to include some affordable units — not just market-rate housing. MTSAs are not.

Nearly all stations on the 1 and 2 subway lines, plus many more light rail stops, are PMTSAs.

The Ford government set minimum densities and gave cities deadlines to submit their plans for approval. Last summer, Toronto created its density plan for the transit areas and sent it to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark.

He didn't like it, according to three of the sources, all of whom were granted anonymity to speak frankly about pre-release plans.

Now, the sources expect the government to mandate far more density than Toronto had asked for. Due to the number of MTSAs in Toronto, the move could significantly change how the city looks and feels, the sources said.

The source close to the government compared the move to a "nuclear bomb" on the city’s proposals. One planning source called it a "firehose" of homes.

Toronto did "as little as possible," one planner said. In some areas, the city changed current maximum densities to minimum densities — which would still allow the status quo to continue, the source noted. 

The city also planned to concentrate density in mixed residential and commercial areas, like along the Danforth, instead of adding density to the neighbourhoods right behind transit stations — many of which are full of single-family homes, the planner said.

In written comments on the plan, submitted through Ontario's Environmental Registry, developers said they had projects ready to go that could densify those areas, the planner said. "And the province, I think, is entertaining those," they said.

It's not a done deal, the planner said. The government could still only choose to add density to mixed-use areas and ignore the neighbourhoods around MTSAs. 

But if it's bold, famously low-density neighbourhoods like Rosedale could see major changes, they said.

"What I'm hearing is that they're thinking up to six to eight stories in the MTSAs. So you'll be allowed to do low-rise apartment buildings," they said. "This, potentially, will be the biggest shakeup in planning in Toronto."

Another source noted that Toronto's housing target, set by the province, is 285,000 homes by 2031 — which will require the city to roughly double its yearly completion rate.

The city's recent move to allow fourplexes citywide won't be nearly enough, they said.

"I expect a fairly substantial change to just about everything," that source said. 

Toronto will have one year to comply with the provincial amendments, the sources said.

Victoria Podbielski, spokesperson for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, wouldn’t comment on sources’ expectations.

“The government continues to review official plans for consistency and conformity with provincial policies, in order to ensure municipalities are well-positioned to support growth, particularly when it comes to achieving their housing targets and building more homes near transit,” she said. 

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks