Toronto's Official Plan Soon to Open to Public Consultation
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Toronto’s Official Plan Soon to Open to Public Consultation

City planners will be seeking input from residents on Toronto's future.

The Official Plan helps determine where cranes spring up. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/neilta/5262225397/"}Neil Ta{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/neilta/5262225397/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Toronto’s Official Plan is kind of like sewers or water mains, in that it is a very important piece of municipal infrastructure that most of us would probably never notice unless it were one day to cease functioning. Over the next few weeks, Torontonians will have opportunities to help ensure the Plan’s smooth operation for years to come: the City is opening the whole thing to public consultation.

The consultations are part of a requirement set forth in the provincial Planning Act, which obliges municipalities to review their official plans at least once every five years. Toronto’s Official Plan came into force in 2006 (it replaced seven previous pre-amalgamation official plans), and so its review time has come. The City will be holding public consultations in venues all across Toronto starting on September 13th. Residents can also participate online, at a website designed for the purpose.

“From the public, what we’d like to hear is, what do you think is working?” says Paul Bain, project manager on the Official Plan team.

Why would ordinary citizens care to weigh in on the future of the Official Plan? Bain thinks they might do it because of the far-reaching implications it has for their lives. “Art Eggleton, when he was mayor, used to liken it to the City’s constitution,” he says.

The OP has a lot to do with deciding what goes where in Toronto, but unlike the zoning bylaw, which deals with nitty-gritty details of how and where individual buildings can be constructed, the Plan is broader, more sweeping in its scope. “The Official Plan is the vision,” adds Bain. “The zoning plan provides the precision.”

The OP’s job, essentially, is to provide concrete documentation of what type of city Toronto wants itself to be, not tomorrow or a year from now, but twenty years in the future, in 2031. It has the force of law, and is frequently used by the City as a lever in negotiations with private developers. Go through the minutes of any city council meeting and you’ll inevitably see several instances of the City offering minor amendments to the Plan in exchange for development fees that ultimately get used to make improvements to the public realm.

The OP also shapes the City’s long-term infrastructure planning. “An important part of the Plan is to put growth where transit is, so that people who live in new development will have transportation options,” says Bain.

And so far, according to an analysis by the City, the whole thing seems to be working pretty well. About 80 per cent of the new residential units proposed by developers since 2006 have been in parts of Toronto where the Plan calls for intensification—particularly in the downtown core and along Toronto’s established high streets.

But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some tweaks. Aside from whatever the public brings up, staff will be reviewing the Plan for compliance with new on-the-ground realities, and new legislation. Updating the OP’s treatment of heritage conservation issues, for example, is an area of particular concern, because new powers that came about as a result of the Ontario Heritage Act of 2005 have rendered much of the Plan’s original dealings in this realm obsolete.

Public consultations on the Official Plan will be held in the following locations, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.:

  • September 13, Metro Hall (Room 308)
  • September 14, Etobicoke Civic Centre
  • September 20, Scarborough Civic Centre
  • September 21, East York Civic Centre
  • September 26, York Civic Centre
  • September 27, North York Civic Centre

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