Delays and inefficiencies within the City of Toronto's Committee of Adjustment process add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of renovations and infill building projects, according to a new study.
The study, commissioned on behalf of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) and conducted by Altus Group Economic Consulting, found that $21K to $58K were added annually to these projects.
Toronto's Committee of Adjustment considers applications for minor variances, such as changes to building setbacks or parking requirements. The study analyzed timelines for these minor applications over the eight-year period from 2015 to 2022 and found that the volume of applications has doubled — one of the reasons for lengthy delays.
On average, decision timelines for Committee of Adjustment applications ran 95 days, which the study notes is 65 days longer than the 30-day standard required by the Province of Ontario's Planning Act and 32 days longer than the 63-day target set by the City.
"These delays can add 8% to 14% annually in additional construction-related costs, amounting to between $9 per square foot to $19 per square foot annually," BILD said in a release.
Although the pandemic exacerbated the issue of lengthy decision timelines, the study found that both the Committee of Adjustment and the Toronto Local Appeal Body — where decisions about local planning matters are appealed — were failing to meet timelines "well before the pandemic."
As Toronto looks to encourage more housing, having implemented reforms around rooming houses and garden suites, the study says there is a "high degree of risk" that the City could face "a flood of minor variances if sufficient attention to development envelopes and other zoning matters is not given."
To fix the delays, and help the City of Toronto achieve its goal of building 285,000 homes by 2031, the entire Committee of Adjustment system needs to be overhauled, the study says.
“With the City recently adopting various zoning reforms such as four units per lot as of right, and looking to make additional changes in the near future, the need for a more efficient process that reduces strain on City resources has never been greater," said Justin Sherwood, BILD’s Senior Vice President.
The study provides several recommendations for changes the City can implement, namely what needs to be approved and who can approve it. City staff should be allowed to make minor approvals — something that became permissible more recently under new Ontario legislation. This would lower the caseload work for the Committee of Adjustment and could "remove a serious bottleneck in the current home construction process."
With more than 90% of applications approved by the Committee of Adjustment, the City should also examine existing applications to determine which ones are repetitive and reform zoning bylaws to eliminate unnecessary applications, the study says.