Builders’ use of Toronto streets back on agenda

Report expected to address practice of allowing developers to occupy public right-of-way
Thursday, January 8, 2015
By Michelle Ervin

A motion that contemplates curbing builders’ use of city streets during construction is in the hands of Toronto’s deputy city manager for “consideration and appropriate action” after a public works and infrastructure committee meeting Tuesday. The move essentially avoids duplication as staff prepare a comprehensive report expected next month that will consolidate this and other motions aimed at reducing gridlock.

In an effort to combat traffic congestion, Coun. Josh Matlow last August proposed the long-term goal of ending the practice of allowing developers to occupy the public right-of-way during construction. Matlow also proposed interim measures including hiking upfront fees and applying escalating monthly fees to discourage and curtail the practice.

The member’s motion failed to secure the two-thirds’ Toronto City Council support required to bypass referral to the public works committee this month. Meantime, however, the idea of curbing developers’ use of the public right-of-way has found another advocate.

At the beginning of December, new Toronto Mayor John Tory unveiled a six-point plan for tackling traffic congestion in the city, a plan that included stricter criteria and increased fees for closing lanes for private development projects. The staff report due to be considered at the Feb. 23 public works and infrastructure committee meeting is expected to address the six-point plan.

Steve Deveaux, chairman of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), said he asked the committee Tuesday to “consider the long game.” Developers, he said, are directly responding to Toronto City Council policies in constructing mixed-use buildings on arterial roads, which takes them from property line to property line, as well as to the street line, and leaves little room to avoid occupying streets.

Currently, developers pay slightly more than $510 to have their street occupation permit applications processed and an ongoing monthly fee calculated at $5.77 per cubic metre of public right-of-way. Developers don’t want to pay to occupy the public right-of-way for any longer than necessary, Deveaux said, and additional costs imposed on them will ultimately be shouldered by buyers, which in turn affects housing affordability.

“My hope is that the city will take a pause on pushing forward staff recommendations for next month and proceed in more thoughtful way,” he said.

BILD would like to continue to work with the city to find appropriate solutions for reducing congestion while maintaining public and worker safety during construction, Deveaux said.

Though Coun. Matlow said he sees a role for developers in the discussion, he hopes the city will act swiftly.

“They [developers] need to be more mindful about how their staging grounds and construction hoarding impacts residents who are seeing their public space being occupied for sometimes two or three years at a time,” he said.

For example, Matlow said, developers could consider negotiating extra height in exchange for greater setbacks, which would help contain staging on site during construction without sacrificing density  and leave a legacy of “remarkable” public realm post-construction.

“There are creative ways to do this that don’t necessarily have to be a negative for the development industry,” he said.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness magazine.