Toronto’s Move into Mid-rise

Advancing the relationship between the mid-rise style and Toronto’s avenues will provide an opportunity to transform the face of our city into maturity.

The idyllic vision that Toronto city-planners have had for developing its city’s avenues into a more cosmopolitan-like mid-rise style is slowly taking shape.  The City of Toronto’s definition for mid-rise is listed as any development between 4 and 11 storey’s and is a clear mandate of its Official Plan.  Though progressing, speeding up the process and making mid-rise more feasible to the development community has been an issue much jostled with between the city’s big minds, real-estate developers and bureaucrats for some time.

The Case for Mid-rise

Proponents for mid-rise development argue that propagating the style could be a key driver for busting open Toronto’s housing market, supplying it with a highly demanded midpoint option, somewhere between the condo tower and detached house.  Mid-rise buildings have also been credited with improving a multitude of areas in civic design, including better scaling between pedestrians and the streetscape, wind protection, sun allowance and a more ideal population density – as one City of Toronto planning study found, “if just one-tenth of mixed-use corridors were zoned for six-storey development, at least 120,000 new housing units could be created.”

This being quite the hot topic lately, I decided to research some ways the City of Toronto could help expedite the process for mid-rise development.

Fixed Costs are Breaking Mid-rise Development

It turns out that mid-rise condos are inherently more expensive to build than their tower counter-parts.   More varied floor plans and a lesser ability to offset necessary fixed costs like mechanical boxes and amenity space are largely to blame.  Conversely, there are things that can be done to limit some of the more frivolous costs, including consideration for more flexible parking requirements, along with eliminating the “one size fits all” model for required loading bays.  In both cases, no longer does it make sense for developers to be mandated into supplying over sufficient parking in transit-happy neighbourhoods or an 85-unit building having the same size loading bay as a 50-storey condo tower.  Overhauling these antiquated regulations and replacing them with a more articulate framework has the ability to encourage more mid-rise development.

Mid-rise is being “Zoned out”

As is, city-wide zoning designations have encouraged the average developer towards tower development.  This is because avenues that are ideally suited to mid-rise development, at current, have a low-rise designation, thus mandating any application for development over the allowed height to apply for a rezoning.  Since this rezoning application is identical for both tower and mid-rise developments, the inevitable time and money spent often is reason enough for developers to maximize height and density and move forward with building a tower.  Updating the zoning code for “mid-rise friendly” areas and an expedited approvals process would create predictability and cost savings, effectively rewarding developers for taking the mid-rise route.  Although much has been made about evolving the zoning process, to date progress has lagged.  It is this sort of predictability that makes so much business sense and can edge more mid-rise development into Toronto’s avenues.

Moving forward with these types of changes would surely be greeted by an enthusiastic development community.  Unlocking Toronto’s avenues and making mid-rise development a more viable option should be seen as a priority.  There is just too much potential for great city shaping at stake to act otherwise.