Corp Comm Connects

The Vaughan divide: Developers covet high density, residents want to keep it low

More and more Vaughan residents are voicing their disdain over highrise projects
July 22, 2019
Dina Al-Shibeeb

Vaughan, alongside parts of York Region including Newmarket, were people’s ideal alternative from high-density Toronto, where the bustle and hustle are merely irritating noise for people nostalgic for a country feel and open green space.

On July 5, Victor Lacaria spoke with York Region Media about his frustration over a proposal of a seven-story condo in his neighbourhood he dubbed a strictly “dedicated” low-density area.

Lacaria’s story isn’t odd or a lone one but almost a repeated theme of how a developer or an owner proposes a tall structure that shocks residents used to their low-density neighbourhoods.

In May, at a public meeting, a Vaughan resident asked how is it possible for the Gupta Group to propose more than 65-story tower when citizens "fought hard" to keep the cap -- on a municipal level -- at 30-plus storeys in a city where people increasingly complain of congestion and traffic gridlock as construction along Highway 7 continues. 

Don Given, land use plan consultant for the Gupta Group, at the time defended the proposal, saying it was “deliberate” to be in line with the Provincial Growth Plan. The representative also defended the choice that there are less parking units than the number of condo apartments simply because the government wants to bolster public transit usage.

With these samples of stories, it seems there is a widening divide stemming from the provincial mandate which is encouraging these developers to intensify as much as they can.

“I feel the province does not have the same understanding of what is going on when compared to the municipalities,” said Daniel Shafro, a Vaughan resident and a sales representatives at Sutton Group-Admiral Realty Inc.

Shafro, who says “highrises do not fit well with two-storey detached homes and look out of place,” added, “Builders/developers regularly appeal to the (Ontario Municipal Board) OMB to try and get their way and they seem to emerge victorious most of the time,” representing a prevalent sentiment by the people.

Province overrides municipal will

After a public hearing on June 4, Vaughan rejected Bill 108, which the Tory-led government passed anyway, overriding municipalities’ will. The bill is said to “encourage” housing construction and reduce red tape amid a surge of demand especially for affordable dwellings.

The bill spells out a U-turn to the old OMB which has allowed developers more clout but this is also debatable between those who are pro the bill and those who argue against.

Marilyn Iafrate who was inundated with emails urging her to reject the bill before the June 4 municipal decision, said, “The revised Bill 108 is the developers' dream bill.”

“The recent revisions stripped the authority of a municipality's official plan and went back to the old way of doing business -- developers build whatever they want wherever they want because (the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal) LPAT doesn't respect the existing official plan.”

She said a municipality’s official plan, which Vaughan is on top of, is “based on extensive public consultation costing millions of dollars,” describing how the LPAT process is “not a public” one.

“Consultants for the developers proudly state that municipalities have to support their outrageous development plans because the Province has mandated intensification but they always omit to mention that a municipality has the sole right to determine where that intensification happens.”

'Tremendous growth'

David Wilkes, Building Industry and Land Development Association’s President & CEO, said the Greater Toronto Area is experiencing “tremendous growth,” and the story needs to be told in its own context.

“We're expecting to see 115,000 people move into the GTA annually,” he said, “that's going to require 50,000 more homes to be built each year in order to accommodate those individuals who are immigrating or folks that are looking for their first home.”

“This is why the provincial government has recognized this, that we need to provide choices for people and their housing,” he said, “Right now, we're building about 38,000 homes across the GTA on an annual basis. So we're 12,000 short.”

“Change is difficult for people,” he said. “I think it's very important for your readers to have context around if you choose to offer that to them.”

With this mushrooming population, the Provincial Growth Plan has “designated certain areas to support high density in particularly around the VMC, the Metropolitan centre in Vaughan.”

Faced with a “generational housing supply shortage” and “challenges that we have with affordability market where there is more demand than supply,” Wilkes defended the bill.

He said, it’s “designed to provide more certainty on what the costs are around new development.”

Development charges in the GTA have increased between 236 per cent and 878 per cent since 2004, he added. “Development charges are increasing 10 to 40 times faster than inflation. Existing homeowners only faced an average property tax increase of double the rate of inflation.”

Matthew Cory, Principal, Planner, and Land Economist at Malone Given Parsons, whose company prepared BILD’s report that York Region had missed its 2009 land development target, says while Vaughan is “ahead” of its York Region counterparts by developing about 55 per cent of the Provincial Growth Plan-approved land by 2018, it’s now difficult to maintain the same pace of development.

The “failure” to facilitate the development of the remainder of these land by 2031, the deadline for the Growth Plan, could possibly add on “more intensification” in areas where servicing and infrastructure are readily available.

It was easier to develop the vast majority of land in Vaughan, however, according to Iafrate, “the only barrier to speeding up the construction of new homes is the lack of funds to service those lands so that homes can be built and NOT the availability of lands or the approval process to develop those lands.”

The councillor said it “would be more helpful is if the Province provided infrastructure funding to the Regions so that they can move forward with servicing the lands now approved for development.

Nothing can be built unless you have the water and sewer mains in place.”

Brothers Ayman and Khaled Alkhalaf show off their masonry skills during a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Skilled Trades College in Woodbridge. The Human Endeavour has created an apprenticeship program to help newcomers and unemployed people find work in masonry and general construction and also to help reduce labour shortages through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Photo: Steve Somerville/Torstar

Not enough labour

Asked about the bill, Vaughan-Woodbridge MPP Michael Tibollo said, “Our job as a province is to give municipalities the tools to be able to do what they need to do” but also to “simplify the process so that we can build more homes build more affordable homes” to solve the higher demand than supply “backlog.”

However, Tibollo illuminated that the main reason behind the Growth Plan is the need in the Canadian economy for labour.

“We need more immigration into the province of Ontario,” he said. “We have 190,000 jobs that our government has created since coming into power but we don't have the people to fill all those jobs.”

When Tibollo was the Minister of Tourism and Culture, he said, “we couldn't find people to work."

"It is the No. 1 issue everywhere in Ontario, including Vaughan-Woodbridge is that we can't find the people to work in the tourism industry.”