Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Toronto, the capitol of the Canadian Province of Ontario, is located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, about 200 miles northeast of Detroit, Michigan. First settled as a military post, Toronto began growing in the industrial age and surpassed Montreal as Canada’s most populous metro area in 1976.  In 1998, the provincial government amalgamated the former City of Toronto with six surrounding municipalities into a single City of Toronto. This City has a population of close to 2.5 million people within a Greater Toronto Area of roughly 5 million people. Over half of the City’s inhabitants are foreign born. More than 100 languages and dialects are spoken here and the city is enlivened by numerous ethnic neighborhoods.

Toronto’s original TDR program was amended to encourage the preservation of open space surrounding three historic landmarks including the Metro United Church pictured here.

Under Toronto’s original TDR program, St Andrew’s Church (foreground) transferred development rights to the Sun Life complex (background).

Toronto started its inventory of heritage sites in 1973 and today it includes roughly 7,000 properties. The City has established 12 heritage conservation districts and offers matching grants for eligible conservation work.

Barry Cullingworth’s Urban and Regional Planning in Canada (1987) credits Toronto as the first Canadian city to use a variation of TDR referred to as “density transfer. The City’s 1976 Central Area Plan included two transfer policies. One was Section 5.14: “Density Transfer for Heritage Buildings Used for Performing Arts.” The other was called “small sites density transfer”. The small sites policy was not aimed exclusively at historic preservation but was used for that purpose according to a 2002 report on the evolution of density transfer in Toronto prepared by the Director of Community Planning for the South District.  In the small sites density transfer option, the sending and receiving sites had to be in a mixed-use district, no larger than 0.405 hectares each and within 150 meters of each other.  Prior to the mid-1980s, this process was used to transfer density from the St. Andrew’s Church and manse to the Sun Life Assurance properties at the corner of University Avenue and King Street West.

In 1993, a new version of the Plan eliminated the small sites density transfer policy, maintained Section 5.14 and added a new Section 5.15: “Density Transfer Policy for Heritage Buildings with Significant Open Space” targeted at three sites:  Metropolitan United Church (bounded by Queen Street East, Shuter Street, Bond Street and Church Street), St. James Cathedral (at the northeast corner of Church Street and King Street East) and Campbell House (at the northeast corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue.) This policy recognized that the open space at these three locations provide relief in congested portions of the city and offer a visual perspective for the landmark buildings. Policy 5.15 allowed the sending site to transfer the difference in floor area between the maximum amount allowed under the Plan and the actual size of the historic structure. Non-residential floor area transferred from the sending site could not be used to exceed the non-residential limits on the receiving site. Residential floor area from the sending site could be used to exceed the limits that would otherwise apply at the receiving site but the bonus density was capped at different maximums depending on the receiving site zoning district. For example, the maximum residential bonus was FAR 0.75 in the Medium Density Mixed Commercial-Residential Area and FAR 2.0 in the Financial District.

As of the 2002 report, Policy 5.15 had been successfully used to preserve the Campbell House and its associated open space by transferring density to the Canada Life block to the west. However no transfers had occurred by 2002 on the other two targeted properties. Representatives of the Metropolitan United Church were unable to find a receiver site and had been considering placing substantial new development on the open space portions of the site as a way to raise money for needed maintenance of the historic buildings. Similar problems were reported by representatives of the St. James Cathedral.

As of March 2006, the new Draft City Plan, scheduled for adoption in 2006, contains a Site Specific Policy No. 191 that pertains only to the three properties discussed in the 2002 report mentioned above. In many respects, this Site Specific Policy reflects the 1993 Policy 5.15 for heritage sites with significant open space. For example, the transferable density cannot exceed the reduction in permitted gross floor area on the donor site occupied by the heritage property. The owner of the donor property must agree to spend the revenues from the density transfer on restoration and maintenance of the heritage building and open space and must have a dedicated conservation fund for this purpose. The public must have access to the heritage open space. The receiving site can be any lot within the Downtown that is not located in Neighborhood or Parks and Open Space Areas. However, the limitations placed on bonus density for the receiving site are simpler: any single receiving site is limited to a maximum floor area increase equal to the area of the lot, or FAR 1.0.