First submitted to the City of Toronto last August, the Parallax Investment Corporation's proposal for a 33-storey tower at 203 College Street drew criticism from adjacent Ward 20 residents and Councillor Joe Cressy. While the City roundly rejected the initial proposal, the developers returned with a revised vision for the site earlier this year. Reduced to 29 storeys and aesthetically reconfigured, the Page + Steele / IBI Group-designed tower—submitted to the City in March—has now been appealed to the OMB. 

Substantially taller than both its immediate and extended surroundings, the tower would replace the 6-storey mixed-use building that currently occupies the southeast corner of College and Beverley. As currently proposed, the mixed-use tower features 309 residential units—with 33 three-bedroom suites—as well as 1,677 m² of office space and 343 m² of street-level retail. By contrast, the original proposal included 356 condominium units, 29 of which were planned as three-bedroom suites. (Both proposals call for unit sizes ranging from just under 400 ft² to approximately 800 ft²).

203 College Street, Toronto, by Parallax Investment Corporation, Page + Steele The original and updated proposals (l-r), images retrieved via submissions to the City of Toronto

Following the resubmission, negotiations between the City and the developer were due to resume. However, an appeal to the OMB was brought forward on the grounds that no decision was made by the City within 120 days of the original submission. While the appeal followed hot on the heels of the resubmission, the time elapsed since the original proposal legally enabled the OMB's involvement. 

According to Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy, the circumstances of the OMB appeal are contrary to both the community's interests and the planning process. In a March 18th letter to constituents, Cressy argues that "the developer has decided to circumvent community consultation and the City Planning process" via an appeal to the OMB. (In this case, Cressy notes that the developers also eschewed the pre-application meeting typically held in Ward 20). 

203 College Street, Toronto, by Parallax Investment Corporation, Page + Steele The original proposal, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

According to Cressy, the initial 33-storey proposal was met with "strong opposition" regarding "the height and density of the building, the unit composition, and the potential for increased noise and traffic." Despite the opposition to the project, Cressy argues that ongoing dialogue with the developers presented "an attempt to work towards a more suitable application." Calling the very existence of the OMB "a fundamental flaw in our planning process," Cressy goes on to argue that a more community-oriented approach to planning "starts with abolishing the OMB." 

Like a significant number of proposed developments throughout Toronto, the project has seen its share of dispute. In this case, however, the contentious nature of the proposal arguably says more about the system than the project itself. With the controversial role of the OMB now central to the proposal, the issue of whether the tower should be approved takes on another dimension. The basic question of whether the proposal represents good planning remains. But who decides the answer? And why? 

203 College Street, Toronto, by Parallax Investment Corporation, Page + Steele The updated proposal, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

Critics of the OMB—including Cressy's fellow Councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam—decry the provincial body as an undemocratic institution that undermines community and City-led planning. While the OMB is sometimes seen as a sort of free pass for developers to circumvent community interests, supporters argue that the OMB's mandate is critical to upholding the provincial policies—including Places to Grow—that spur much of Toronto's recent urban growth, bypassing the City's outdated zoning criteria.

As an apolitical body, the OMB is also removed from local pressures, and its decisions can avoid the political parochialism that sometimes besets municipal politics. Meanwhile, as the City updates its regulations with new frameworks like the Tall Building Guidelines, the OMB's decisions have arguably become more predictable, typically following more recently implemented City guidelines.

Whether or not the developer ought bypass ongoing City negotiations in this instance is a distinct matter, however, as no individual proposal presents a perfect verdict of the OMB's merits and faults. Indeed, the nature of this appeal—where much of the controversy relates specifically to the 120-day timeline—does not make it an exact microcosm of broader tensions between the City and the OMB. Nonetheless, the circumstances of the proposal point to the complexities of Toronto development, and the wide range of factors that shape our city's built form.

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We will keep you updated as the proposal continues to make its way through the planning process. In the meantime, more information is available on our associated dataBase page, linked below. Want to share your thoughts on the proposal, or the role of the OMB? Feel free to leave a comment in the space below this page, or join in the ongoing conversation on our Forum.