The City of Toronto is in the process of dramatically changing how its “Employment” lands are treated. Employment lands are lands which have previously been called “industrial” and include lands where manufacturing, offices, some retail uses, warehousing/distribution and some institutions, like places of worship and schools, have located. Both the City and Province believe that Employment Lands need be protected to ensure the City’s continued economic health.

In general terms, the City’s proposed plan is to discourage, restrict or ban in varying degrees retail uses, places of worship, recreational uses, most schools, office buildings and residential uses from the Employment Areas.

Through an amendment to its Official Plan, the City would divide the existing Employment Districts and Areas into two new designations: General Employment Areas and Core Employment Areas.

The Core Employment Areas would primarily be reserved for manufacturing, warehousing/distribution, transportation, research and development, utilities and industrial trade schools. Retail activities and restaurants will be significantly restricted. Most institutional uses will be prohibited. The Core Employment Areas represent 75% of the Employment lands in the City.

The remaining 25% would be designated as General Employment Areas. These areas will permit more uses, including retail, service and restaurant uses, plus recreational uses (fitness centres and ice arenas). It is likely that lands which are designated as General Employment Areas will enjoy an advantage over lands designated Core Employment Area.

As the City of Toronto is composed of six former municipalities, North York, Scarborough, East York, York, Etobicoke and Toronto, there is currently a hodgepodge of zoning and Official Plan permissions in place for the existing industrial and employment lands. Much of the City’s industrial/employment lands currently permit a much broader range of uses than contemplated. The effect of this Official Plan Amendment (“OPA 231”) will be to be effectively prevent land from being redeveloped for retail, restaurant or institutional purposes, even if those lands could be redeveloped that way today. It is important to understand that even if the existing zoning permits the use which is being removed by OPA 231 if a rezoning is needed because current standards such as height, density or set-backs are too restrictive, conformity with OPA 231 will be required.

While existing uses can continue provided they were clearly and demonstrably established legally, expansions will become problematic, requiring further approvals. Those approval applications will be faced with the argument that the Official Plan intends these uses to disappear. 

Landowners should consider whether their redevelopment rights are affected by OPA 231 now so they can seek relief. As the boundaries for the new Core Employment Areas and General Employment Areas do not necessarily correspond to the existing zoning by-laws, each property should be reviewed to determine whether or not the Official Plan Amendment’s mapping threatens its redevelopment potential. There is an opportunity now to seek site specific changes to the Official Plan to permit any existing stand-alone office, retail, institutional or other permissions to remain on the land.

Please note that in order to challenge any portion of OPA 231, including the mapping of the two Employment Areas, a landowner must provide either oral or written communications to Toronto City Council prior to the adoption of that Official Plan Amendment. We strongly encourage any landowners with an interest in determining whether their current use or rights to redevelop their land are affected by this Official Plan Amendment to make that determination as soon as possible so there is time to prepare and formally file submissions with City Council to preserve the right to appeal the Official Plan Amendment to the Ontario Municipal Board. Owners should have submissions filed before the City Council meeting scheduled for December 16-17, 2013 to ensure their rights are preserved.

We anticipate that there will be a significant number of appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board of this Official Plan Amendment and failing to be proactive with respect to your land may leave your land at a competitive disadvantage to other lands in its vicinity.