|Proposed image of 109Oz, from theredpin.com|
The Ossington Community Association (OCA) has been pressing ahead with trying to prevent the construction of a six-story building (known as "109Oz") in their neighbourhood, which they feel is of inappropriate scale (i.e. height and density). I wrote about their plight before, but was looking at it from the perspective of a developer; today, I thought I would try to look at it from an urban planning perspective.
The OCA has made their position quite clear (and if I might say, has certainly done their homework, even if there is an obviously biased perspective to the case they're making) regarding the "109Oz". The case fundamentally comes down to this: is the site an appropriate location to place a 6 story building? Certainly, the issue is more complex than that! Their planning position can be broken down into the following arguments:
- Ossington is not officially designated as an avenue
- A mid-rise building is not in character for the neighbourhood
- Toronto's Official Plan calls for the protection of stable residential areas
There are also have a handful of social issues they're worried about with the new development. I can't get to all of these in one blog post, and I need some more information about them myself to make a future judgment, so perhaps these can be explored in the future:
- The size of units being offered support a transient population
- Safety concern as new vehicles interact with school traffic
- The retail space being offered will be only affordable to a chain store
I will not pretend to be some sort of expert on the area (I've only visited it once), but I'll give my opinion on each of these points where I am able to. A lot of my second-hand information does come from the OCA website, which pretty clearly tries to paint 109Oz in a bad light. Still, one can't fault them for their passion in this project.
Argument 1: Ossington is not officially designated as an avenue.
This is true. Toronto's Official Plan (OP) designates particular areas of the city to direct "growth" towards. In essence, the city wants to build in the former city cores (e.g. downtown Toronto, downtown North York, downtown Scarborough) and along the main streets of the city where one will generally expect mixed-use development (e.g. the Danforth, St Clair West). These areas are outlined on this OP map:
|Image from Map 2 of the Toronto Official Plan. The red circle indicates the contentious area in question.|
Without getting into too much detail, the "brown" areas are areas that the OP designates as "avenues". The "light grey" areas are not specifically designated by the OP, but generally represent low-rise neighbourhoods. Therefore, this area is not an appropriate place to direct "growth" to.
I disagree with the thrust of this argument, as it appears to be saying that intensification should be limited to particular areas of the city. While the OP may direct "growth" to particular areas, there is no expectation that growth can't (or perhaps, should not) occur in areas outside of avenues and the downtown cores. The OCA understands this I think, but object to adding a mid-rise building (6+ stories) here. However, there are certainly buildings much taller than 6 stories is other parts of the city that are under the same OP designation (of lack thereof) as Ossington. Heck, I myself live in a 15 story building, similarly lacking an OP designation (with a new building of similar size being built nearby).
While the OP might direct growth to particular areas, it cannot concentrate growth to the exclusion of all other spaces in the city; like it or not, we're all in this together. The basis of intensification should not rest solely on some arbitrary colours on a map in the OP. Thus, the issue becomes judging what is (or is not) appropriate for a site. Even if the developer wants to characterize the area as being "avenue-like", it's the wrong battle for the OCA to be fighting. The issue is whether a six story building has some merit being built in this location. Unfortunately for the OCA, I think there is some.
Argument 2: A mid-rise building is not in character for the neighbourhood.
This section of Ossington is zoned (and largely built) as mixed-use. Most of the buildings are about three stories, and feature very small, independent stores. The area has a much more intimate feel to it than either Dundas or Queen, thanks in part because it has a lot less traffic than either street, and with numerous cafes and pubs.
Dundas has a much busier feel, thanks in part to the presence of several nearby banks. It feels like a place you go to to get work done, not necessarily to relax, although in fairness, the area is quite different in scale from the Dundas I'm used to (the one near Yonge St). Queen Street at Ossington is not generally considered to be an attractive part of the city; the nearby Centre for Addiction and Mental Health naturally brings a lot of people with addiction and mental health problems to the area. North of College, meanwhile, features much more Victorian-style housing, along with a public school. It feels much more like a residential area than the mixed-use area it's technically designated as. Thus, I get the feeling that this piece of Ossington ends up being this kind of oasis between the three conflicting realities.
Still, this area (like all areas) must eventually change; the question is therefore how. The developer seems to want to frame the area "as being" like an avenue, and thus should feature greater intensification, like what is found (now or in the future) at College and Queen, much like how the OP views its "official" streets that are designated as avenues.
The OCA has a few complaints on this line of thinking. The first is that the "strip" in question is not of "significant enough" size to be called an avenue. Secondly, they have an issue with designating the street's "right-of-way" (ROW; the distance from buildings on one side of the street to the other, which include sidewalks) as 20m like the proposal does (they claim the street does not have a 20m ROW, which is true). Unfortunately, neither is in an of itself a convincing claim.
The space between Dundas and Queen is a little under 600m. When you pick off the corners (i.e. the space that a corner lot would take up) you lose probably another 80m, putting you in the ballpark of half a kilometre. While I certainly wouldn't consider 500m to be a "significant" size when talking about an area of the city, what is damaging is that the bounds aren't two little-travelled streets in Toronto! Dundas and Queen both have a street car that connect into the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line, while there is 24 hour bus service on Ossington that connects to the Bloor-Danforth subway line.
Avenues are meant to take advantage of abundant transit opportunities to spur intensification, and I think it's difficult to argue that this Ossington strip is not well connected to transit. In other words, the small length of the strip in question is perhaps a hindrance to preventing mid-rise development, on the basis of it being so close to either end of an officially designated avenue.
The planning context that designates Ossington as having a 20m "ROW" is, again, the Official Plan (Map 3). How this "works" with the current ~18m ROW is that as Ossington redevelops, the city would take a metre from each side of the road for the purposes of road widening at some future date. The OCA finds this designation contentious for two reasons. First, there was a property (2 Ossington) which did not appear to "give up" a metre to increase the ROW. Secondly, the local councillor, Mike Layton, told the group that it would operate as an 18m ROW rather than 20m.
|Section of Map 3 of the Toronto Official Plan. The black arrow indicates the strip that 1090z is on.|
I can't comment properly on what happened with 2 Ossington, but I can think of two possibilities. First, what was built at that location is roughly 4 stories; I believe the developer might have used the as-of-right zoning (i.e. what is written in the ZBL for the area). Certainly, had they wanted I think they could have had a good case for getting six stories. Getting the "extra metre" for future road widening would generally be one of the tools that the city would use negotiate a higher density. If the developer did not ask for a minor variance or ZBL amendment, then they have little reason to give up that extra metre of their property. The other possibility is that the city planner simply missed it. Keeping in mind that Queen St would have been the main concern, it's possible that no one flagged that the city was looking to widen the road in the distant future (planners are human too). Regardless, "2 Ossington didn't give up a metre for a bigger ROW, so why should we?", is a lacklustre defense as long as the OP still classifies the road as having a 20m ROW.
The second defense, that Councillor Layton told them that an 18m ROW will be the context that planning decisions will be made under, is noble, but has no legal status. The OP is looking ahead into the future (a future which may be several decades away) to a time when Ossington does have a 20m ROW, and that is the context that the OP (and therefore, planning staff and the developer) will operate on. For that to change, the OP itself must be amended, and it is far too late to amend it at this point. Politicians cannot simply claim it to be otherwise.
Argument 3: Toronto's Official Plan calls for the protection of stable residential areas.
Is the mid-rise building being proposed is appropriate to the neighbourhood? Would something like this ruin the character? Would it harm the nearby residential buildings? The issue that the OCA has here seems to be the proposed height and massing of 109Oz. What will be built will still be mixed-use like the rest of the strip, so there is no potential for a "local undesirable land use". While I don't care for the design, the OCA seems to be alright with it. The question is therefore whether six stories would clash and cause issues with the rest of the neighbourhood, such as blocking sunlight, or encroaching on near-by low-rise residential.
|A portion of the Toronto Official Plan's Map 18. The Ossington strip in question is labelled as a "Mixed Use" area.|
Toronto has guidelines, outlined in their Avenues and Mid-Rise Study, about how to create a building that does not lead to excessive problems in the neighbourhood, creating building "envelopes" that can inform a developer as to what sort of shape of building they could "make" on a particular property. These guidelines don't actually apply (given that Ossington isn't designated as an avenue) but there is still some general value in using them to determine what is or is not appropriate in a location.
This ends up being a technical exercise, but for the area in question, it would work something like this (note: I'm going to have to estimate some of these numbers, but it should give a pretty decent picture of what could be "built"). I will note however, that these calculations and numbers are being pulled off the internet; I have not seen the actual proposed building, and there might be some circumstances I'm not aware of or accounting for.
109Oz, once consolidated, will be about 40m deep (thanks to losing 1m to the city for the future road widening). Using the OP numbers, the ROW for Ossington will (eventually) be 20m. Behind the property is a lane about 6.5m wide, and beyond that are garages for low-rise residential. With these numbers, we can get a fairly rough idea of how the envelope will look. I will just do the envelope as seen from the "side", as the envelope facing from Ossington would be a lot more complicated, and not entirely relevant as it's the depth that determines the height.
|I did this in MS Paint, so that's why it looks so great. The setback at the rear is approximate.|
The maximum height of the building (not including a mechanical area) is considered be equal to the ROW, which is therefore 20m in this case. Instead of allowing a uniform "block", the guidelines create "angular planes" towards the front and back, preventing the building from blocking all sunlight to its front and back. The height at street level is to be 80% of the ROW; as the ROW is 20m, this means that the height allowed facing the street is 16m. From the back, there must be 7.5m between the mid-rise building, and the lot behind it. This is to preserve the "45°" angular plane, while still allowing for one retail and one residential floor. As there is a laneway at the back of the property that is about 6.5m, it can be included in the calculation. A 45 degree angular plane is then "drawn" from each end until it hits the maximum height allowed; the building should fall in between the envelop, although a mechanical/penthouse of up to 5m is allowed on top, as long as it falls within the angular planes. Above is an example of what could be possible at 109Oz.
(I didn't label it, but the building would be ~39m from back to front.)
Theoretically, as long as the building falls within these guides, it will cause minimal to no impact on properties across the street or behind it, at least in terms of sunlight. Naturally, a building would be unlikely to look as strange as that; you would usually see a stepback at or before 16m (probably at the 4th floor, or around 14m up), rather than a strange, slanted roof on either side.
|Me writing over a blurry proposed image in purple, green, and dark grey. Ignore the red, and the fact I mirrored the image.|
Of course, judging by the blurry scan that the OCA has thrown up, the building rises at least a few more metres higher than 7.5m. After talking with the city planner briefly, what appears to be happening is that the developer is arguing that a "higher" angular plane of 10.5m should be allowed on the basis that -- under the current ZBL -- a height of 14m is allowed as of right. In other words, if the issue is preventing sunlight or having a massive building encroach on the properties to the rear, then a building that is essentially a 14m "box" would cause more issues with sunlight and scale than one that rises 10.5 metres at the back, before starting the 45° angular plane to the maximum height. It's a pretty interesting technical argument, and one that I think an OMB judge would find convincing.
From the image the OCA posted, there look to be only two spots that the building "breaks" out of this "modified" building envelope. The rear one is likely not a deal-breaker, as the resulting shadow would fall upon backyard sheds (rather than backyards). The front one might be of issue, although given that the building breaks up along the front facade, the actually area of the building that is in violation will not run the full length of the building, although judging by the mock-up image (seen at the start of this blog post), it still runs a significant amount.*** Shadow studies will likely determine how much of an impact it will have on the west sidewalk.
I want to make one extra comment, that the OCA appears to believe there is a big difference between a residential lot that runs parallel or perpendicular to the "mid-rise" property in question,*** although I'm scratching my head as to their reasoning. The Mid-Rise guidelines don't distinguish because there isn't much point to doing so (there should be a step down to the residential property, regardless of its alignment to mid-rise property). Regardless, there are only three properties in question (33, 35, and 37 Argyle St) that run perpendicular to the mid-rise property, and of those, only 37 Argyle is likely to be impacted by this development without care being taken. This is not enough justification to jettison the proposal outright in my mind.
There is no question about whether a six-story building can sit on this property according to the guidelines. There will be some push and pull over the envelope between City Planning and the developer, but it can fit. It will still be up to City Planning to determine whether the encroachments are acceptable or not, but they are relatively minor aspects of a much larger building.
... I think arguing that a six-story building isn't appropriate for that section of Ossington Avenue is a tough sell. I'm not saying there is zero merit in the OCAs arguments, just that their ones against having a mid-rise building here are weak; some mock-up images of how the building would actually look from street level would be nice to obtain, but in their absence I must concede that the mid-rise guidelines can work to fit a building here, and the design will "break up" the building, making it look less looming than I think the OCA gives it credit for.
I think the OCA's arguments that are more "social" in nature (i.e. the increased traffic and affect on businesses) are stronger overall, although it is unknown at this point whether those arguments would be enough to sway an OMB member if it came down to it. I hope to attend a meeting on Oct 3 that the OCA is running, and maybe even talk to some of the residents about the proposal.
In the meantime, the application is still under review with the city. They've flagged several issues that could cause the proposal to be modified, although at this point I doubt they'll outright reject a six-story building (modify perhaps, but not reject). Given that the OMB approved a six-story building just down the street from this one back in March, chances are that mid-rise will be the future of this strip; we'll have to wait and see how quickly it does develop.