Density Bonusing and Development in Toronto
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Height and density bonusing is a planning tool that municipalities in Ontario have authority to use by virtue of Section 37 of the provincial Planning Act, which allows a municipality to grant a developer bonus height or density beyond that allowed by prevailing zoning restrictions in exchange for the provision of community benefits. In Toronto, a major building boom has brought more than a decade of high-rise construction, mostly for new condominium towers and to a lesser extent new office buildings. Rising land values, a buoyant real estate market, and population and employment growth have created an ever-increasing incentive for developers to seek approval to build buildings taller and denser than envisioned by City Planners, local politicians, and the public at large. In order to obtain some degree of public benefit from this private development boom, the City of Toronto has extensively applied Section 37 to secure community benefits such as parkspace improvements, public art, and funds for new daycare facilities and affordable housing. To date, the City of Toronto has secured over $350 million through Section 37 agreements, as well as hundreds of in-kind benefits that likely double the total value of the City's Section 37 revenues to approximately $700 million. Although density bonusing policies have been in place in Ontario since 1990, this planning tool continues to be fraught with criticism that such bonusing opens the door to "let's make a deal planning" between developers and municipal actors, and permits community opposition to be silenced through legalized bribery. Furthermore, the nebulous logic of the Ontario Municipal Board, which makes planning decisions that trump the authority of municipal councils, has given rise to an increasingly prevalent trend of negotiated settlement; under such an arrangement a developer obtains expedited approvals in exchange for agreeing to the local Councillor's Section 37 demands, and revising their initial proposal to mitigate the most vociferous objections of City Planning staff and community actors. My major research paper contributes a new perspective to the limited existing literature on Section 37 agreements in Toronto, by undertaking distinct analyses four distinct actors: developers, local ward Councillors, City Planning staff and community actors. The broad objectives of my paper are as follows: first, I provide a detailed overview of the provincial and local policies that govern height and density bonusing; second, I examine several prominent development projects to analyze the effectiveness of past Section 37 agreements; third, I undertake separate analyses of each actor in Toronto's urban development process; fourth, I conduct case studies of bonusing practices in three Toronto wards, and; lastly, I discuss my findings, highlight patterns and trends, critique particular elements of Toronto's bonusing regime, and offer some recommendations regarding how it might be modified to function more effectively, consistently and equitably.