ZAS interview with Metro – New rules could shift face of Toronto skyline

New rules could shift face of Toronto skyline, affordable housing -

A small change to Ontario’s building code could have a big impact on residential growth in Toronto, experts say.

New rules went into effect Thursday allowing developers to construct wood-frame buildings up to six storeys. The height restriction had previously been capped at four due to safety concerns.

“Certain provinces, particularly B.C., have been pushing the boundaries in terms of getting larger and higher buildings made out of wood, and Ontario is finally catching on,” said Paul Stevens, a principal at ZAS Architects in Toronto.

Although two extra storeys may not seem like much, Stevens said the code change could spur a mid-rise housing boom in the city.

“The new building code allows for a lot of cost savings,” he said. “It opens up sites that — until now — have been very expensive to develop.”

Stevens estimates wood frame buildings cost 15 to 20 per cent less to build than concrete ones, savings that could potentially be passed on to homebuyers.

Wood-frame construction also allows for more creative building forms, and Stevens believes the change could bring variety to a Toronto skyline dominated by concrete condos.

“Residential construction has a big impact in terms of how our cities look,” he said. “If you look at concrete, for it to be cost effective, it has to be very repetitive. You don’t have that issue with wood. There’s more design freedom.”

Lorna Day, a manager at Toronto’s planning department, said the change will most likely affect areas just oustide the city’s core, such as Bloor Street West or parts of Eglinton along the planned LRT route.

“It could be a shot in the arm for some areas that need density,” she said. “And it sprinkles the growth around, which is important because we know that Toronto’s neighbourhoods are precious; they don’t need to intensify to the same degree (as downtown).”
Day stressed the increase in wood-frame construction won’t happen overnight.

“We won’t see wholesale change right away,” she said. “But once the banks see that it’s not risky and the construction industry learns how to do it, it could really snowball.”

The new rules also require that stairwells of wood-frame buildings be constructed with noncombustible materials and that roofs be combustion resistant.

Source: Simcoe, Luke “New rules could shift face of Toronto skyline, affordable housing” Metro News, 2014-01-01
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