The City of Toronto, similar to many municipalities, has been struggling to protect its employment lands for traditional employment uses, namely manufacturing, office, research and development facilities. One of the strongest tools that a municipality has to protect its employment lands from other non‐employment uses, are the policies set out in its Official Plan. Although the City of Toronto now has significant powers to prohibit conversion of employment lands to residential uses, the policies relating to the development of employment lands for large‐scale retail uses and certain institutional uses have not had the desired effect. As a result, the City is now reviewing these policies, and suggestions to strengthen them with respect to these types of uses have been put forward by the City’s Planning Division.

In a report dated May 3, 2010 to the Planning & Growth Management Committee, the City’s Planning Division made recommendations concerning the policies set out in Section 4.6 of the City of Toronto Official Plan, which deals with large‐scale, stand‐alone retail stores and power centres. The current wording of Policy 4.6.3 is proposed to be amended to address the following matters:

  1. to ensure the traffic from new large‐scale, stand‐alone retail stores and power centres will have minimal traffic infiltration within Employment Areas;  
  2. to ensure such new developments will provide on‐site driveways and large sites shall be required to meet the design objectives of public streets, such as pedestrian infrastructure and tree plantings;  
  3. to ensure such new developments will encourage parking located below grade and/or in a parking structure with limited visibility from the street; and  
  4. to ensure such new developments will be encouraged to have a minimum twostorey built form.  

In addition to these revisions, there is also a proposed amendment which would introduce definitions into the policy section, under the heading “Major Retail Definitions for Employment Areas”. A large‐scale, stand‐alone retail store would be defined as a single unit that is 6,000 square metres or larger in area, on a lot. Further, a power centre would be defined as one or more retail units that are each 6,000 square metres or larger in area on a lot, and may also include retail units on the same lot that are smaller than 6,000 square metres. The City’s Planning Division is of the opinion that these size‐thresholds in the proposed definitions are appropriate in the City of Toronto context, to ensure that retail development that does not require large sites will locate on lands designated under the City’s Official Plan as Mixed Use Areas and Regeneration Areas.

One of the reasons for these proposed amendments is that, in previous Ontario Municipal Board Decisions interpreting the existing policies and the term “large‐scale, standalone retail uses”, the Board has approved developments on a much‐smaller scale (approximately 3,700 square metres) which, the City feels, is significantly smaller than the intent of the Official Plan to allow major retail uses to locate on large sites fronting on major streets at the boundaries of Employment Areas.

The City Planning Division also proposed an amendment to further restrict permissions for places of worship and recreation & entertainment facilities within Employment Areas. Currently, policy 4.6.4 of the City of Toronto Official Plan allows places of worship and recreation & entertainment facilities to be located on major streets, as shown on Map 3 of the Official Plan. However, to limit these uses in Employment Areas further, the City’s Planning Division proposes to amend policy 4.6.4 to require these uses to not only locate on major streets as shown on Map 3, but also to locate on sites which form the boundaries of the Employment Areas. In addition, such permissions will have to be obtained through the enactment of a zoning bylaw; in other words, these uses will no longer be permitted “as of right” and will be required to go through a site specific rezoning process.

It is important to note that these proposed amendments have not yet been adopted by City Council. In fact, they have not even gone forward for public consultation; however, any landowners who are seeking to locate large‐scale retail uses, places of worship, or recreation & entertainment facilities within Employment Areas should be aware of this emerging direction from the City’s Planning Division and therefore should participate in the community consultation process to ensure their rights are protected.