Ryerson research - rethinking intensification
April 4, 2018
By Maryam Mirza
Pre-zoning areas to focus on intensification, through mid-rise buildings, rather than greenfield development is being advocated in a new report as a more efficient way for municipalities to plan for growth and maximize intensification opportunities. Municipalities such as Mississauga are already pre-zoning built up areas to prioritize intensification.
The study, released March 23 by Ryerson City Building Institute, outlines ways municipalities can move away from "building tall and sprawl" and instead focus on building "the missing middle"-midrise and low-rise apartment buildings, and stacked townhouses.
Institute research manager Graham Haines told NRU that by using "middle densities," municipalities such as the City of Mississauga can not only meet but exceed their projected growth targets over the next 25 years.
"We were looking for sites that were low-density, so it would make sense to actually redevelop them," Haines said. "What we found is that [Mississauga] can accommodate over 160,000 new homes, which is a lot."
He added that the study team found enough redevelopment opportunity in the city to accommodate Peel Region's entire intensification target in Mississauga alone.
"Now obviously we're not going to put all of Peel's growth into Mississauga," Haines explained. "But it suggests that if every municipality was doing that, it would be a huge opportunity to provide family-friendly housing, right within our cities. We actually don't need all of the sprawl we traditionally think we do need."
Research assistant and report co-author Brianna Aird told NRU that zoning by-laws in GTHA municipalities often contain height and/or density maximums that are more restrictive than makes sense. For example, lots at the Port Credit GO station, on a major arterial, are zoned for three storeys.
"Developing a three-storey building along a major road, five minutes from a transit station, isn't good transit oriented planning, and the development economics often don't work out either," Aird said.
As a result, "planning by zoning by-law amendment" has become the norm, she says. With proposals for new heights and densities, adding time and cost to the development process.
"Unfortunately, this is a reactive approach. It adds a lot of uncertainty and cost to the development process, which generally has the effect of disincentivizing missingmiddle type housing," Aird added. "The result is that we're encouraging developers to either build very tall or go out to the urban periphery and sprawl.
One example of how municipalities can plan for intensification through prezoning is Mississauga's new Dundas Connects Master Plan. The master plan, which will be considered by the Mississauga planning and development committee on April 30, illustrates the city's move towards a more comprehensively planning approach to intensification. The master plan focusses on aligning rapid transit infrastructure and intensification, while enhancing connectivity for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and motorists.
While the provincial Growth Plan requires municipalities to intensify around major transit stations, there are challenges, Mississauga planning and building commissioner Andrew Whittemore told NRU.
"The Growth Plan says these major transit station areas in the next six years have to be demarcated and planned to be in place," Whittemore said. "Right now in Mississauga we often don't pre-zone land-so that is quite a radical change from where we've gone."