Toronto and Region Conservation
for The Living City

2012 Annual Report

Building Sustainable Communities

Building Sustainable Communities

TRCA’s vision of The Living City is deeply rooted in a solid foundation of healthy rivers and shorelines, regional biodiversity, sustainable communities and business excellence. The Living City is a vibrant, nature-friendly community where the natural and human elements interact and thrive. It’s also a resilient, adaptive community designed to mitigate for the impacts of urbanization and the potential impacts of climate change.

In its 60 years of existence, TRCA has built an international reputation for working with our partners in planning and building sustainable communities. TRCA is implementing The Living City vision by advocating for the incorporation of ecological design into the planning and environmental assessment processes for both development and infrastructure. This approach seeks not only to protect and expand the remaining natural areas, but also looks to restore degraded natural spaces and remediate communities at risk from flooding and erosion.

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Protecting people and property from flooding

Lower Don River West Remedial Flood Protection Project

One of our greatest achievements of 2012 was the completion of the Lower Don River West Remedial Flood Protection Project, which now safeguards 210 hectares of downtown Toronto, including much of the financial district, against the risk of future flooding from the Don River. The project also permits construction in the West Don Lands, including the athlete’s village for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games, and allows for human occupancy restrictions on other significant new mixed use developments in the area to be removed.

Computer modelling showed the entire area south of King Street East, north of the Keating Channel, west of the Don River, and east of York Street was “at risk from flooding should a storm the magnitude of Hurricane Hazel occur over the Don watershed. Flooding on the Lower Don River has occurred frequently since the mid-1870s and the Lower Don River floodplain has been identified by TRCA as the highest priority flood prone area within its jurisdiction due to the large population and extensive infrastructure that was at risk.

A sustainable community is not just a place to live. The concept of ‘community’ also connotes a common purpose, a sense of affinity with nature, and a collective obligation to protect and preserve our environmental heritage.

The project entailed construction of a permanent flood protection landform, averaging 3.5 metres high along the west side of the Don River from Queen Street to just north of the Keating Channel. In addition, the river channel was widened under the existing CN railway crossing over the Don River, and roads and underground services were realigned.

Some 200,000 cubic metres of clay and another 190,000 m3 of clean fill – or about 40,000 truck loads in all – from construction sites across the GTA were laid down. An armour wall of stone was installed to provide additional erosion protection, and the river side of the landform was planted with native grasses, flowers and groundcover, creating an “urban prairie.”

The landform also provides the rolling foundation for the beautiful new Corktown Common. The 7.3 hectare park offers a myriad of amenities. On the city side, there are playgrounds and a splash pad, open lawns and an athletic field, paths, benches, tables and a fireplace. A striking new pavilion offers washrooms, management offices and utility space, and the park connects to the Don River Trail through the Bala underpass at the southeast corner of the park. More than 700 trees and shrubs provide an ecologically rich habitat, while a large marsh fulfills the dual role of providing on-site stormwater management and a home to birds, frogs and other wildlife.

”The flood protection of the West Don Lands and much of the downtown east side was a tremendously complex project,” says Steve Heuchert, Senior Manager, Development Planning and Regulation. “While the flood protection landform buried under the stunning new Corktown Common may be hidden – and seem rather benign – the planning and engineering efforts required to design, build and sustain it from any future impacts were extensive.”

The work involved extensive commitments on the part of Waterfront Toronto, the City of Toronto, the Ontario Infrastructure and Lands Corporation and TRCA, as well as significant contributions by our development partners. “As a result, some 210 hectares of existing, new and revitalized communities will be protected from future flood risk, and released from flood plain planning restrictions, for many generations to enjoy and thrive within,” says Heuchert.

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Collaboration in the Planning and Development Process

TRCA’s Planning and Development division has enjoyed an exciting and diverse year of professional activity, working with all 18 municipalities across the jurisdiction in 2012. “It’s been challenging to handle new policy and Official Plan review processes with seven municipal partners, while at the same time processing one of the heaviest loads of planning application review and development permit approvals we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” says Carolyn Woodland, Director, Planning and Development, Toronto and Region Conservation.

Senior teams assisted York Region, the Cities of Vaughan and Mississauga, and the Towns of Richmond Hill and Ajax complete the environmental policy components of their official plan updates. This entailed natural heritage mapping and updated policies applicable to future redevelopment, natural hazards and flood plain management, and innovative stormwater management. Through ongoing discussions, TRCA helped shape the new and redeveloping communities in our shared watersheds, and develop policies for landscape restoration, sustainable community design and the incorporation of green technologies for managing and improving water quantity and quality. New information on natural heritage and engineering hydrology data was updated through our watershed technology updates and was identified in the Official Plans and many community secondary planning processes derived from these studies.

In the years since Hurricane Hazel, we’ve shared our expertise in flood management and green infrastructure with a number of municipalities to design new flood-resistant communities better able to avoid the impacts of severe storm events, storms that are likely to become even more common due to the growing influence of climate change.

Well over 1,000 planning applications were reviewed this year and over 1,000 construction permit approvals were issued within regulated areas for development and infrastructure projects to serve new growth scenarios.

New neighbourhood plans are taking shape on the landscape of our watersheds and shorelines – from the rolling landscapes of the new Mayfield Community in Caledon and the Kleinburg, Nashville, King City communities in King, to the heritage communities of Woodbridge and Whitchurch-Stouffville, and the modern communities of Cornell and the Lower Donlands in Toronto. Beautiful natural features and sweeping natural corridors have been protected and restored for future open space, parkland and trail systems through development negotiations for future communities.

These new communities spread across the riverscapes of the Duffins, Rouge, Don, Humber and Etobicoke watersheds. Growth planning efforts continue through intense multi-disciplinary planning and technical efforts to determine appropriate development form and protect natural systems in new or planned communities in Seaton (Pickering) and North Leslie lands in Richmond Hill.

In Peel, staff members have worked on expediting approvals for new neighbourhood and employment lands within the Countryside Secondary Planning process. Issues of sustainability, wetland preservation, and management of water and natural heritage resources were critical in all of these new community design efforts. The sensitivities of maintaining water balance and integrating the use of new water management techniques, as we develop in areas of surface and groundwater sensitivity is of crucial importance in developing headwater areas.

Throughout the jurisdiction, proponents and municipalities are looking at opportunities for incorporating low impact development for stormwater management. Staff have seen a marked increase in projects that use green technologies for water management in community design, bolstered by municipal support and developer innovation. The importance of comprehensive Master Environmental Servicing Plans (MESPs) cannot be underestimated as staff worked with proponents and municipal partners to resolve these complex technical reviews. As of the end of 2012, TRCA staff were in the process of reviewing 18 Community planning MESPs across the jurisdiction, inclusive of the new Town of Seaton in Pickering, South Albion in Caledon, and Area 48 in Brampton.

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The Living City Policies Draft

As the policy expression of much of TRCA staff’s work in the planning and development process, TRCA completed a major draft of what is to be TRCA’s main policy document for commenting through the planning and environmental assessment processes and for implementing TRCA’s Section 28 Regulation. The Living City Policies for Planning and Development in the Watersheds of TRCA will update and replace TRCA’s Valley and Stream Corridor Management Program, our main policy document adopted by the Authority in 1994. At one of the Authority’s last Board meetings for 2012, the new draft document was released for public and stakeholder consultation – a provincial requirement that staff are confident will improve the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of the document. The policy document, once approved, will assist and enable our partners’ and stakeholders’ contributions to building The Living City in the planning and design of sustainable communities.

Activities of Planning and Development, 2008-2012

Measure 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
New Planning Applications 708 538 772 658 682
Carry Forward Applications (40%) - 215 308 263 273
New Permits Applications 1000 1019 1062 1020 1032
Carry Forward Applications (20%) - 203 212 204 206
Permits Issued 923 849 1026 966 944
Minor Works Issued - - 278 290 282
Environmental Assessments 177 125 115 140 103
Environmental Master Plan Studies 11 - 1 3 3
Routine Infrastructure Issued - - 110 87 97
Solicitor Inquiries 631 520 835 1017 964
Concept Development Inquiries - - 159 152 163
Violations Issued 67 91 112 77 93
Active OMB/MLC Hearings 8 11 12 18 41
Active Environmental Tribunal Hearings - - - 2 2
Master Environmental Servicing Plans (MESPs) 5 8 14 17 18
Special Planning Committees 30 30 25 24 30
Official Plan Exercises 4 4 6 5 7
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