Unhappy with the Provincial Government’s recent gutting of TOCore, the 25-year master-plan framing development objectives in Toronto’s Downtown Core, Toronto City Councillors Joe Cressy, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton held a press conference today to announce their strategy to preserve TOCore’s objectives at the local level. Composed of a number of public and private studies rendered between 2012 and 2017, TOCore acts as a blueprint for city growth, focusing on how to regulate real estate development in the Downtown core. Among its principles, the 25-year plan focuses on how to build and pay for hard infrastructure systems like sewers and water infrastructure, as well as soft infrastructure like community services and parkland, to ensure that real estate and infrastructure are developed in tandem to consistently meet the needs of a Downtown population expected to double to nearly 500,000 by 2041.

Kristyn Wong-Tam speaking alongside Joe Cressy (left) and Mike Layton (Right), image courtesy of Joe Cressy on Twitter

In June 2019, the provincial government made 224 amendments to the plan, removing a number of restrictions on residential development including setback, angular plane, maximum heights and minimum unit size requirements. 

At the announcement, Councillor Cressy stated "Downtown is home to some of the fastest growing neighbourhoods in all of North America. From an economic lens, Downtown is truly the economic engine of this city, this province, and this country. It includes… one third of all the jobs in the entire city of Toronto, one quarter of the City's tax base, 51% of the city's GDP. When Downtown Toronto does well, the city does well, the province does well. But we need to ensure that as Downtown is growing, that it is growing in a manner that is sustainable, that is equitable, that is livable, and that will ensure long term prosperity. And that's why together as Councillors and as a City as a whole, we spent seven years… coming up with our own master plan for the future of Downtown, the first such plan since the 1970s. It's called TOCore… It's a vision for Downtown to build neighbourhoods and build prosperity, not just build buildings. Now in early June, without any warning, without any notice, and in a unilateral manner, the Province of Ontario ripped up TOCore… They removed requirements for parkland and community centres, which will make Downtown less liveable. They removed requirements for hard infrastructure like sewers and hydro… which frankly, will make Downtown less viable. They even reduced requirements for minimum sidewalk size, for [the] size of housing units in buildings. What they did, unilaterally, was to reestablish the Wild West for developers for Downtown, and that has put at risk the long term liveability and prosperity of not only Downtown, but our province as a whole."

Finding these changes inconsistent with the envisioned livable future that the councillors and their constituents desire for Downtown, Cressy, Layton and, Wong-Tam have announced they will be using every power available to them to deter any development that does not adhere to the Council-approved TOCore Guidelines.

Boundaries of the TOCore Plan, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The councillors have proposed a red light/green light system, where projects who follow the previous TOCore principles will be greatly rewarded. Specifically placing importance on developers who provide “appropriate community infrastructure like parks, sewer and water pipes, community facilities,” councillors will prioritize these ‘green light’ applications internally; scheduling community meetings and councillor-developer consultation meetings quickly. Should the proposed development receive a ‘red light’, the councillors have vowed to use any number of the following measures to slow down the approvals process: applying the holding provision to Rezoning applications that cannot be supported by existing infrastructure, denying ancillary permits (such as lane closures or tree removals) needed to facilitate development, and requiring Community Council support for Site Plan Approval (SPA) applications. Currently, SPAs are handled by the Planning Department and do not have to come to Council.

Downtown Toronto skyline seen from Corktown Common Park, image by Ryan Debergh

Former Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat praised the plan on Twitter, stating that the TOCore plan "ensures that excellent projects get prioritized and more resources. Poor projects get stopped in their tracks," adding that Mirvish Village and The One, both landmark projects under construction, were two of the first projects to be approved in conjunction with TOCore principles.

The move is part of a growing political opinion that Toronto should have more control over its own infrastructure and development planning affairs, rather than acting as a “Creature of the Province” which limits the City’s autonomy. Because Canadian municipalities are not recognized by the constitution, Provincial Governments have more control over their affairs than a State Government would have over similarly-sized American cities. This long-standing policy has allowed the Provincial Government to make changes to Toronto-based policy, such as the TOCore alterations, the reduction of Toronto City Council size, or the upload of the TTC Subway System. 

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