Toronto is considering softening its rules about how new mid-rise buildings should transition to adjacent dwellings or parks amid concerns the current rules limit the number of units inside.
Currently, a mid-rise building must be built significantly back from property lines, with each floor smaller than the one below it, resembling a staircase — a move intended to maintain sunlight on nearby parks or shorter dwellings as density increased.
That “step-back” design, often referred to as wedding cake architecture, has been increasingly criticized by housing advocates and those who build and design housing because it restricts how many units can be built in a building and increases building costs due to its complexity.
Naama Blonder, an architect and urban planner with Smart Density, says softening rules is a good first step.
“I hope that these changes will bring some hope for us to see more mid-rise buildings on avenues because it’ll be more realistic for builders,” she said.
She says wedding cake architecture is more expensive, harder to build and worse for the environment.
Existing rules require new mid-rises to back from property lines by 7.5 metres plus a 45-degree angular plane if backing onto a house. If a draft rule is approved, the city says it would “simplify the construction of mid-rise buildings, which could be constructed straight up at the rear to a height of 6 storeys before stepping back.”
If a new building backs onto a park, the draft rule indicates step-backs aren’t needed if there are no shadow impacts and the park is to the south of the building.
‘Get rid of the policy,’ says advocate
Eric Lombardi, a spokesperson for the housing advocacy group More Neighbours Toronto, says softening the rules that aim to curb shadows doesn’t go far enough.
“The best outcome would be to get rid of the policy,” he said. “Shadow policies go against the vast majority of policy objectives that we should be aiming for around architecture, affordability, and cost.”
He says the city needs to focus more on pedestrian experience around buildings by creating gathering spaces at ground levels or other things that add value instead of worrying about shadows.
The city is holding consultations on the draft changes on Sept. 20.
Cathie MacDonald and Geoff Kettel, co-chairs of the Federation of North Toronto Residents’ Associations, say they are concerned by the process the city is undertaking.
“The current system with angular planes makes a good general framework for dealing with buildings like this,” said MacDonald. “We’re concerned about a blanket proposal.”
Kettel says he is concerned by the emphasis on adding more units as a selling point of the change and is worried about seeing box-like buildings lining a street if the rules change.
MacDonald says the fact that there is already a draft of new rules suggests there won’t be a real consultation and argues more comments about potential outcomes should have been included at this point of the process.
Draft changes would allow for more development: city
A spokesperson for the city told CBC the September consultation meeting was extensively promoted on social media, on the city’s website, in councillor newsletters and in emails to Business Improvement Areas and resident associations.
The city says the updates “re-balance” the city’s priorities and consider the environment, saying they “would enable these buildings to use repeatable floorplates and provide more floor space on upper storeys, while providing predictability for neighbouring residents.”
They would also allow for more mid-rises on shallower sites.
Staff said in a summary posted to the city’s website that the drafted changes still encourage generous sunlight, while supporting intensification.
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