Leaside’s residential character

The LRA has written to Councillor Jaye Robinson to request a multi-pronged strategy to protect Leaside’s residential character:

Dec. 2, 2020

Councillor Jaye Robinson
Ward 15 Don Valley West

RE: Protection of Leaside’s Residential Neighbourhood Character

Dear Jaye,

This is to request your agreement with, and your active support and assistance in implementing a multi-pronged strategy for the protection of Leaside’s residential neighbourhood character.

As you are aware the LRA has a long standing interest and pride in Leaside’s residential character. The LRA examines all applications for consents and variances involving Leaside and is involved in applications that impact on streetscape and neighbourhood character. We have also funded studies to understand and promote the cultural heritage of Leaside.

Leaside was once at the forefront of town planning in Canada; now ironically, the Leaside community is seriously in jeopardy as a result of an ineffective planning regulatory framework, including (1) weak zoning bylaws, (2) the dubious legal status of the existing Leaside Preservation Guidelines, and (3) the Committee of Adjustment and TLAB refusal to consider the Guidelines in its determination as to whether “minor variances” apply to maintain the general intent and purpose of the Official Plan.

The ongoing erosion of the Community’s built environment will eventually reach a stage that makes adoption of the types of approaches discussed not worthwhile. It is essential to move forward ASAP to prevent the permanent loss of the attributes that make Leaside a distinctive community.

It is recommended:

  1. That City Planning proceed with the CHRA Study for the Leaside residential area in the 2021 Planning Study Work Program.
  2. That City Planning complete the Neighbourhood Design Guidelines template and apply the template to Leaside ASAP.
  3. That a “Davisville-type” by-law to control the three storey “jumped up” design be developed and implemented in Leaside
  4. That City Planning ensure that planning reports for Committee of Adjustment applications consider neighbourhood/streetscape impacts as part of the “four tests” assessment and recommendation.

Respectfully submitted,
Geoff and Carol

Attachment: Rationale for and History of Efforts to protect Leaside Character

A. Rationale for protection

“Leaside is probably the best example we have in Toronto – or perhaps Canada – of a fully-planned “garden” or “railway suburb” that was built in the 1930s/40s in accordance with a single overall plan. As such it may well qualify as a potential Heritage Neighbourhood – one that comprises a set of clearly identified and planning and design features that are repeated right across the community”.
John Van Nostrand, 2015 (when Leaside was considered (but not included) in the HCD prioritized list).

Leaside was designed, governed, and partially functioned as a single entity for much of its history, including its formative years:

  • Frederick Todd laid out the Town of Leaside – one of three model new towns designed on Garden City principles for the Canadian Northern Railway (the others were Port Mann (Shaughnessy, BC), and the Town of Mount Royal (Montreal, Quebec));
  • The Town of Leaside existed as an independent municipality from 1912 to1967 (when it amalgamated with the Township of East York to form the Borough of East York), and included both residential and industrial areas;
  • The early live-work relationship between the residential and industrial areas, for example, Canada Wire and Cable Company with its plant east of Laird, and company housing west of Laird Drive.

The following quotes are from Paul Dilse, Heritage Planner (2014) about Leaside’s cultural heritage:

  • “The Town of Leaside may be, and likely is, the first new town established on Garden City principles in Ontario. Only eight years after the launch of the world’s first Garden City (Letchworth in England) Frederick Todd laid out the Town of Leaside – one of three model new towns laid out on garden city principles for the Canadian Northern Railway.”
  • “there is an architectural consistency across the residential community and its buildings express modesty in their appearance”

And from Steve Otto, Architectural Historian:

  • “street after street is flanked by handsome boulevard trees and tidy single family homes in stripped down Georgian Revival or Tudor revival style, each set back from the road an identical distance on a comfortable lot with a private driveway”.

Leaside which continues to be a significant (designed) cultural heritage landscape, was described as “picturesque, suburban” by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (2015).

B. Neighbourhood Design Guidelines

In 2003, the City of Toronto in consultation with the Leaside Character Preservation Advisory Committee published the Residential Character Preservation Guidelines for House Renovations, Additions and In-Fill Development in the Community of Leaside. (Leaside Guidelines) These guidelines “provide design principles that are meant to assist members of the community – architects, designers and contractors, as well as city officials and staff, in gaining an understanding of what makes Leaside’s natural and architectural attributes valuable and how to extend these attributes to new development.”

The LRA (and former LPOA) has attempted to use the guidelines to assess applications before the Committee of Adjustment (CofA), and upon appeal to the OMB/TLAB. However the North York CoA Chair has categorically rejected the relevance of the Leaside Guidelines in the determination of a “minor variance” under the Planning Act, section 45 despite the Act’s “tests” which require the Committee to examine each variance sought with respect to whether or not it maintains the general intent and purpose of the Official Plan and the Zoning By-law. In this regard the City of Toronto has included language in the Official Plan to protect established neighbourhoods (and which with OPA 320 has been strengthened).

Further, the former North York C of A chair asserted that the OMB’s consideration of these Guidelines, in the two Leaside cases cited to him , were of no interest or relevance to the CofA. In both decisions, the Board accepted our evidence as to the failure of the proposed buildings to conform to the character of the neighbourhood, however the Board did not give weight to the Guidelines in coming to this conclusion. The Board noted that the Guidelines were not officially in force, and, in the 151 Airdrie decision, the Board went on to say, at page 5:

“It is noted that the City’s planning department does not typically, according to evidence, employ the guidelines, nor is the neighbourhood a designated heritage area.”

Preservation of the types of standards expressed in the Leaside Guidelines is a key issue of importance to Leaside, and other established neighbourhoods in Toronto which are facing incremental change resulting from the Committee of Adjustment and TLAB decision-making regarding so-called ”minor variances”.

In 2016 City Planning initiated two pilot studies with the intent to create a City-wide template for Neighbourhood Design Guidelines. The Long Branch guidelines were developed, approved by City Council, and they are being enforced by the Committee of Adjustment/TLAB. The Willowdale guidelines have not been completed or implemented. And the status of the template is unknown.

C. Cultural Heritage Studies

Leaside was identified as a potential Heritage Conservation District in Official Plan Amendment No. 38. In 2014 the LPOA hired Paul Dilse to undertake an assessment of a potential HCD for Leaside residential area. In 2014 Parkhurst Boulevard was nominated as a potential HCD, and in 2015 Leaside was authorized by City Council but of a group of 16 candidates prioritized for study, Leaside was assessed was “below the line”, and not included in the 8 prioritized areas to proceed to an HCD Study.

In 2018 Leaside was recommended by City Council for a Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment (CHRA) Study. This has not proceeded to date.

Note that area planning studies in two adjacent areas have included CHRA studies:

  1. Midtown in Focus Planning Study (including east side of Bayview) and
  2. Laird in Focus Planning Study – Area A – former industrial lands enclosed by Laird to Aerodrome, and Eglinton to Vanderhoof, and Area B – Laird west side.

The Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment (CHRA) multiple listings approach would slow the loss of original buildings by control of demolitions. A Heritage Conservation District, which by allowing the control of demolitions and infill development, would appear to hold the most promise of allowing the cultural heritage landscapes of Leaside to evolve in a planned and consistent manner, rather than be destroyed by incremental and random changes. However it may be too late for this approach.

D. Zoning by-laws

Consolidated zoning by-law #569-2013 (and its predecessor Leaside by-law #1916) were applied to Leaside without consideration of the existing development character such as massing, height and design.

A special by-law covering the Davisville area was formulated and implemented in order to prevent the integral garage causing “jumped-up” design. This has merit and potential for Leaside also.

E. Planning Staff reports

Staff provide written advice to the Committee of Adjustment to assist them regarding determination of an opinion as to whether the application meets the “four tests” under the Planning Act. However staff reports are subject to an internal prioritization process which appears to focus only on metrics. There is no consideration as to “fit” with the prevailing neighbourhood character.