Downtown Toronto Moratorium

Photo: Blok 70/Flickr

UPDATE November 15th, 2016: Councillor Wong-Tam has withdrawn her request for the Director of Community Planning for Toronto and East York to report on the feasibility of the one-year tall residential building moratorium for Toronto’s downtown core.

Original story: A Toronto city councillor has submitted a letter proposing a one-year moratorium on the development of new tall residential buildings in the city’s downtown core.

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam submitted the letter, dated October 27th, 2016, to the Toronto and East York Community Council, requesting that the council’s community planning director report to the council on the “feasibility of implementing a one-year moratorium on new tall building residential re-zoning applications.”

The councillor’s arguments supporting the moratorium are wide-ranging, from concerns of housing oversupply in the city to inadequate city infrastructure that has not kept up with “intense growth in the downtown.” Gridlock, pedestrian and cyclist safety issues and disruptions to business owners caused by construction were also mentioned in the letter.

Wong-Tam’s Ward 27 – Toronto Centre-Rosedale includes a significant part of the city’s core, with the ward bounded by Queen Street to the south and University Avenue and the southern segment of Avenue Road to the West. Full Ward 27 boundaries can be viewed here.

According to BuzzBuzzHome Market Snapshot data, there are 22,556 condo and apartment units under construction in the boundaries of Toronto’s downtown core.

Unsurprisingly, members of the city’s residential land development community are critical of Wong-Tam’s letter.

Richard Witt, partner at Quadrangle Architects, a firm that’s designed several major downtown Toronto residential high-rises, believes that halting development in one of the primary provincial growth centres will be catastrophic.

While Witt says Wong-Tam raises legitimate concerns in her argument for the moratorium, he lays the blame for many of the infrastructure issues cited by the councillor at the feet of City Council.

“The city has, for years, used the development charges that should have been used to upgrade infrastructure to artificially lower property taxes by putting the development charges into general revenue,” he says.

“Hitting the pause button isn’t the answer. How will the city respond to the huge increase in property taxes that will result from stopping development charges and still nothing being done to improve the infrastructure?”

Naram Mansour, president of Toronto builder Carlyle Communities, owns a site at 124 Peter Street in the downtown core where a 46-storey, 435 unit residential tower has been proposed. He agrees that infrastructure in the downtown core has not kept pace relative to growth, but fails to see how Wong-Tam’s moratorium will relieve the pressure.

“Our city is growing in an amazing way and infrastructure takes years to execute,” he says. “You can’t stop growth of an entire city for a year and think it will allow you to catch up.”

According to Mansour, the main issue with the city’s lagging infrastructure has to do with investment and execution.

“We spend too much time debating what the best approach is versus actually determining where the revenue sources will come from and actually starting the work,” he says. “There is no doubting the city will have to raise taxes in order to achieve solutions to infrastructure funding, however, an alternative approach we don’t explore nearly enough is private-public partnerships for infrastructure development.”

While Mansour doesn’t see the moratorium having a major impact on long term growth for the city if put in place, he does think it would make Toronto a more difficult place to live from an economic perspective.

“I don’t think a moratorium will stop people from moving to the city, so in return, we will see further upward pressure on rents and housing value,” he says.

Quadrangle’s Witt says the City depends on the development industry, but doesn’t appreciate the economic advantages that come from its continued strength.

“Affordability is a supply and demand equation. We need to use the opportunity that development offers to support the broader growth aspirations of the city, not plunder that advantage for no long term gain,” he says.

Wong-Tam has requested that the community planning director present a feasibility report for the one-year moratorium during the Toronto and East York Community Council’s January 17th, 2017 meeting.

BuzzBuzzHome President Matthew Slutsky took to Twitter to voice his concerns about the proposed moratorium:

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