Category Archives: farmlands

Why growing vegetables on the roof is the future of Toronto architecture

Arlene Throness, urban agricultural coordinator at Ryerson University, walks between rows of garlic being grown on the roof at the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre.

Green roofs are nice, but rooftop farms are better.

They’re the future of living architecture, say International green roof advocates who gathered in Toronto last week.

Traditional green roofs reduce energy consumption by keeping buildings cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and they also absorb rainwater instead of sending it into storm sewers. For this alone, they have become official policy in Toronto.

But rooftop agriculture — or agritecture — does all this while also providing jobs, generating electricity, training youth and of course, growing food.

“Toronto is a leader in North America for green infrastructure — not only green roofs, but community gardens. This is about putting those two ideas together,” said Steven Peck, president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which hosted the two-day Grey to Green conference.

“We have a handful of agricultural green roofs and all of them are community projects,” like Eastdale Collegiate, Ryerson’s Engineering building and the Carrot Common, said Peck. “But we don’t have any commercial-scale agriculture on roofs — that’s the next thing.”

Last month, Toronto was recognized as North America’s second best city for building green roofs, with only Washington D.C. building faster.

Thanks to the green roof bylaw passed in 2009, all new buildings over six stories tall and with more than 2,000 square meters of floor space must have at least 20 per cent green roof.

But because planners envisioned using perennial plants, certain regulations discourage seasonal crops, said Arlene Throness, who designed and operates the 929 square meter farm on the roof of Ryerson University’s George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre.

The city by-law requires green roofs to be 80 percent covered three years after planting. If you’re harvesting crops every season, the green roof is periodically naked while the new crops grow, and this breaks the law, Throness explained.

“I think the fear was that edible plants would take too much labour and water,” and the city wanted to give developers a low-maintenance solution for building green roofs, Throness said. “But we’ve been monitoring our water use and don’t require any more.”

After a pilot project in 2013, last summer the roof hosted a five-crop rotational farm that produced more than two tonnes of vegetables, she said. “We’ve found that we can grow everything here.”

The harvest is split between campus kitchens and the Gould St. farmer’s market on Wednesdays.

Ontario imports billions of dollars of produce from California each year and this supply is becoming threatened due to their prolonged draught, said Throness. Rooftop agriculture adds local food security to the existing environmental benefits of green roofs.

 For Peck, while rooftop farms aren’t appropriate everywhere – older buildings often can’t handle the extra weight – they’re an essential part of the future of the city.

“There are still hundreds of millions of square feet of roofs in Toronto that could still be greened,” Peck said. “We invest billions and billions of dollars on grey infrastructure. It would pay great dividends to devote a small part of that to green infrastructure.”

By the numbers:

72,020 square meters of green roofs built in Toronto in 2014

232,000 square meters of green roofs already in existence

185,000 more square meters have been approved.

4,984 hectares or approximately 8% of the total land area identified as the total available area for green roofs in the City of Toronto.

20 % minimum area that must be covered by green roof on new buildings in the city

2 tonnes of produce produced by a 929 square meter farm on the roof of Ryerson University’s George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre last summer.

Source: Toronto Star  Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Jun 08 2015

Protect our Water

Protect Our Water

In Mississauga, more than 40,000 catch basins funnel rain and snowmelt into our storm drainage system.

The storm water that goes down our storm sewer drains ends up untreated in Lake Ontario, unlike water from our sinks and toilets, which goes to a sewage treatment plant before reaching the lake.

Our water quality can be threatened by lawn chemicals, oil, soap and other substances that may enter our storm sewer drains through rain runoff, driveway washing or by deliberate dumping.

You can help protect our water through environmentally-responsible action.

PROTECT OUR WATER

Waterloo housing: the dream … and the surprising reality

Waterloo planners found home ownership patterns are changing — to the chagrin of builders.

Despite a growing population, planners say home ownership patterns are shifting and the region doesn’t need much more suburban single-family housing.

Waterloo planners found home ownership patterns are changing — to the chagrin of builders.

WATERLOO—A few years ago, planners in this booming region of high-tech startups and higher education did something so revolutionary — or ridiculous, depending on your perspective — that shock waves are still reverberating through the development industry .

They looked at planning for the future from the perspective of aging baby boomers.

For decades, new housing here, two hours west of Toronto, had been largely two-storey suburban homes on the farmland fringes. Some developments were sprawling so close to environmentally sensitive moraine lands and aquifers — on which the region depends for 80 per cent of its drinking water — that they ran into fierce community opposition.

In 2008, a team of civic officials decided to take stock.

They analyzed census data from 1991 and 2006 to classify existing housing in the region by age and type and, most importantly, by the number of people aged 50 and up, including the growing cohort of baby boomers, who owned it.

“What we were trying to figure out was, how many single detached homes were still owned by baby boomers and how many will turn over and be sold in the next 20 years,” says team leader Kevin Eby, the Waterloo director of community planning and himself a baby boomer.

“We realized that what they do with them — whether they stay or sell — will have a huge impact on the kind of housing that will need to be built in the future.”

What the team discovered was fascinating, if controversial, and has implications for cities across the country, especially when it comes to the growing number of empty-nesters: baby boomers whose kids no longer live at home.

By 2016, this demographic is expected to account for about a quarter of Waterloo region’s roughly 500,000 population — some 129,000 people — up from just 79,000 in 2001.

The housing study found older residents who lived in the city’s postwar bungalows, built between 1945 and 1965, tended to stay put into the final years of their lives. And if they did move out of those largely 1,200-square-foot two-bedroom houses, the census data suggested baby boomers often snapped them up.

However, the first generations of suburban two-storey family homes — built starting in 1965 to house young baby boomers having families — were getting newer, younger owners at a surprising rate.

The team found turnover as high as 30 to 40 per cent for those 2,500-square-foot-plus, three- and four-bedroom suburban-style homes as the first wave of empty-nest baby boomers started to hit their 60s.

Out of that, planners came up with a theory: the region didn’t need a whole lot more subdivisions of single-family homes, despite the fact that its population is expected to grow by about 230,000 people by 2031.

Baby boomers would supply those homes naturally as they age and … well, moved on to a higher place.

The study supported what the region had already determined during its official plan process in 2009: that Waterloo only needed to expand its borders by an additional 80 hectares to accommodate enough suburban homes to meet population growth.

Instead regional politicians and planners believed the bulk of future housing had to be better suited to the region’s aging population: highrise and midrise condos close to stores, medical centres and amenities, where residents don’t have to climb stairs or do maintenance and no longer drive.

Most of that development would be right downtown, along a new $818-million LRT line slated to open in 2017 that will connect the older cores of Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge.

Home builders were not happy, especially those who had bought up farmland on the outer fringes in anticipation of continued suburban growth.

They argued the region already has a serious land shortage that is choking off the supply of new houses, even as controversial semirural projects like Vista Hills, with 480 houses in the first phase of what could be some 1,600 homes, remain just 30 per cent sold after more than two years.

A further 1,050 hectares needs to be rezoned on the fringes, they argued, to allow for enough single-family subdivisions.

While Waterloo planners never formally published their housing stock study, it became a lightning rod nonetheless and one of the key issues in a hugely controversial Ontario Municipal Board decision in 2013 that backed the developers’ view.

The ruling was seen as largely flying in the face of the province’s 2006 Places to Grow legislation, which is aimed at curbing sprawl and intensifying downtown redevelopment.

The region appealed, and the case is still in the courts.

While the ongoing appeal has technically left the region in a planning limbo, a very dramatic shift is already taking hold. In 2002, 73 per cent of all new housing across the region was traditional, single-family detached homes and 10 per cent was condos or apartments. As of 2014, just 25 per cent were singles and 42 per cent multi-unit residential.

Already, condos and apartments such as the Barrel Yards project, right on the LRT line, are springing up in anticipation of future residents that the line is expected to draw. Among these new developments are Momentum Corp.’s Red Condominiums and The42, located just steps from the new restaurants, shops and bars transforming Uptown Waterloo.

Both projects were aimed at the region’s large number of young, high-tech professionals, but the builders were surprised to find half their sales were to downsizing baby boomers, says Momentum partner Brian Prudham, 38. That’s despite a significant issue that could impede a mass move out of big family homes by baby boomers — condos here can cost almost as much as resale detached homes, which still average under $400,000.

WHY THE REGION IS WRONG:

Peter Norman, urban economist with Altus Group, who testified for developers in the OMB case:

Some boomers will “recycle” their homes, but there is no hard evidence they will age any differently than generations in the past, who tended to stay in their homes as long as absolutely possible. Studies have shown boomers will be more likely to retrofit or renovate so they can “age in place,” close to long-time friends and neighbours. Regional planners and politicians have seriously underestimated the additional homes that will be needed to keep up with immigration, echo boomers starting families and new workers migrating to the high-tech hub. “Canadians want to be in houses. Some of them (millennials) may not want to be there quite yet, but we’re a land-rich country and it’s part of our culture.”

WHY THE REGION IS RIGHT:

Kevin Thomason, local resident and one of the voices of the region’s anti-sprawl movement:

House builders are stubbornly clinging to a past that continues to destroy farmland and requires new roads, schools and other costly services that the region can no longer afford. If boomers aren’t yet moving in big numbers, it’s partly because alternatives like urban townhouses, condos and apartments have only recently even been available in the region. And they’ve largely been built by newcomers and builders from other cities who recognize the great need in Waterloo Region.

“We’re seeing signs that the future has got to be different than the past — that demographics are changing, that the current generation doesn’t necessarily want the suburban lifestyle and the expensive automobile they grew up with.”

PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE HOMEOWNERS:

Marian Kaska stands outside her home in Kitchener, Ont.

HANNAH YOON FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Marian Kaska stands outside her home in Kitchener, Ont.

Past:

Marian Kasza

Age: 61

Home: 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom bungalow on 53-by-120 foot lot in older Kitchener, close to church and stores

Life now: Kasza and her husband looked long and hard 15 years ago for a reasonably sized house, where they felt they could live until the end, just like many of their neighbours. Kasza wanted a garden to fill her post-retirement hours, so a condo was unthinkable. Her husband has since passed away, but he prepared her well before his death for the one chore of home ownership she worried might be most unmanageable as she aged: He taught her how to use a snow blower.

“I wanted to be in a place where I wouldn’t have to worry about stairs or moving again.”

Ian Rawlings stands outside his Lakeshore home in Waterloo, Ont.

HANNAH YOON FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Ian Rawlings stands outside his Lakeshore home in Waterloo, Ont.

Present:

Ian Rawlings

Age: 61

Home: 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom suburban home built in 1996 on desirable North Waterloo street

Life now: With their child grown and gone, baby boomer Rawlings and his wife turned a spare bedroom into a home office and debated trading down to a condo close to theatre and restaurants. But they couldn’t accept the notion of trading their spacious $500,000+ home for a small condo that would cost about $375,000, plus hefty monthly maintenance fees — even if it meant never having to shovel their double driveway again. It’s too soon to know what they will do in the long run.

“I think we’re going to stay put for a while. I hate moving — so there’s a real disincentive there.”

Karen Scian stands outside her new apartment in Waterloo, Ont.

HANNAH YOON FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Karen Scian stands outside her new apartment in Waterloo, Ont.

Future:

Karen Scian

Age: 50

Home: Brand new, 1,400-square foot, two-bedroom rental apartment in booming Uptown Waterloo’s Barrel Yards

Life now: This former Waterloo-area politician, entrepreneur and empty nester cashed out of her 2,800-square-foot, $500,000+ Laurelwoods suburban home last summer after her two children headed off to university. She felt the house market had reached a peak. Rather than put most of her cash into a condo, she joined the ranks of boomers opting to rent. She’s paying $2,000 a month to be within walking distance of restaurants, theatre and the new LRT stop right outside her door.

“I love the lifestyle. I love being able to just shut the door and go away without any worries.”

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Ontario farmland under threat as demand for housing grows

Don Howard has been farming in East Gwillimbury for decades. But the land he rents has been sold to a developer, and he's resigned to the onslaught of urban sprawl.

AARON HARRIS / TORONTO STAR Order this photo

Don Howard has been farming in East Gwillimbury for decades. But the land he rents has been sold to a developer, and he’s resigned to the onslaught of urban sprawl.

The sign outside the modest East Gwillimbury bungalow, Howards’ Farm, is a beloved beacon for local residents who make the pilgrimage to this concession road regularly for eggs, beef and pork raised as local as it gets — just a few metres from the front door.

Don Howard, 65, represents the fifth generation to herd livestock and till the fertile soil of the sprawling fields north of Newmarket. He grew up on the family homestead just two kilometres away.

His great-grandfather, Stephen Howard Jr., was the son of one of the first Quaker settlers in the area. Don’s 89-year-old mother still lives in the historic Howard farmhouse, with its original brick bake oven.

But likely not much longer. She sold the property to a developer eight years ago. She and her son have barely spoken since.

Howard and his wife, Deb, are still farming, but on borrowed time. He rents all the 300 acres (121 hectares) he tends near the house he has owned on the 2nd Concession for 40 years.

That farmland is now owned by developers. They are banking that urban sprawl will soon find a new home among the York Region towns and hamlets that form an island, slated for development, right in the heart of Ontario’s 10-year-old protected Greenbelt zone.

Minto Communities has owned land within that island for more than seven years. Earlier this month, it launched sales for the first phase of its new Queen’s Landing residential project on a field just up the 2nd Concession from Don Howard’s place. More than 1,300 keen buyers lined the road.

Some spent two nights sleeping in their cars, desperate to be first in line for 90 affordable detached houses and townhomes in what will eventually be a 660-residence community, just a 50-minute GO Train commute from downtown Toronto.

While Minto sales staff erected a tent and brought in heaters, coffee and doughnuts to keep the crowd comfortable during one of the coldest days of the year, Howard and his wife watched the “circus” — and their future — flash before their eyes.

“Time’s ticking, for sure,” he says. “I think farmers here accept that their days are numbered, but we’re going to have to work with these people when they move in, until we get pushed out ourselves by all the crap of having people living so close.”

Already the Howards have felt the pressure of urban expansion — drivers edging impatiently behind their tractor, couples walking dogs through their fields.

East Gwillimbury and other rural areas like it that are not part of the Greenbelt could soon prove to be an unlikely ground zero in a months-long discussion, about to kick off across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, of both existing and future growth in this booming region of the province.

Over the next few weeks, the Ontario government will hold a series of public meetings in towns and cities across Canada’s most populated and fastest-growing area, where the population stood at 8.7 million in 2011 but is projected to hit almost 13.5 million by 2041.

Population growth pressuring the Greenbelt

The meetings are all part of a critical and combined review of the 10-year-old Greenbelt Plan and Places to Grow legislation, as well as the Oak Ridges Moraine and Niagara Escarpment plans aimed at protecting sensitive environmental and agricultural areas from encroaching development.

Already the battle lines are drawn.

Environmental and grassroots groups like Food & Water First, the David Suzuki Foundation and a coalition of councillors, Municipal Leaders for the Greenbelt, are calling for stronger protections and even expansion of the more than 1.8-million-acre (728,400-hectare) Greenbelt, which rings the GTA from Niagara in the west to Northumberland County in the east and Lake Simcoe to the north.

There are also calls to make some or all 113,000 acres of so-called Whitebelt — lands between the urbanized edges of the GTA and the Greenbelt — into a “food belt” so that farmland and future food production are better buffered from the big city.

Food and Water First, which grew out of the grassroots movement that in 2012 helped stop the Melancthon mega-quarry and the destruction of 2,300 acres of prime farmland near Orangeville, now has a new mission.

It’s proposing a 10-year moratorium on rezoning any more prime Class 1 farmland — like that owned by developers in East Gwillimbury — for residential expansion, “to let everyone breathe and make sure we’re doing the right things,” says Carl Cosack, a founder of the group and an Orangeville-area rancher.

“I expect people will engage in this conversation like they never have before,” adds Cosack of the upcoming planning review. “We’re just learning through social media that what we have to say does matter, and that if we engage in a good conversation we can move the sticks.

“We need to really look at how planning has been playing out already and develop better planning directives so we have the ability to grow the food that Ontarians need.”

But the review will be much bigger — and much more political — than that. There are expected to be calls for the appointment of a regional planning czar to better integrate planning decisions for the good of the whole Golden Horseshoe.

There will be lots of talk about the “unintended consequences” of the existing legislation: the leapfrogging of development over the Greenbelt into small communities often ill-equipped to deal with rapid growth; the dramatic shift to condo construction at the expense of houses; the escalating price — a record average of $705,813 — for a newly built house in the GTA.

“This is the connect-the-dots conversation we need to have with the government and the municipalities and everyone who wants to talk about growth,” says Joe Vaccaro, CEO of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association and an executive with the Building Industry and Land Development Association.

“We’re all in favour of the Greenbelt and the growth plan and accommodating the additional millions of people the province says are coming here over the next few decades. But as you do that math you have to ask: where are we going to put all of those people? Not all of them are going to live in condos.”

In fact, there needs to be some creative new model of intensification that goes beyond what’s now become largely just two extremes of new housing — suburban detached homes and taller, small condos, says Cherise Burda, regional director of the non-profit Pembina Institute, which is preparing a presentation for the review.

Pembina is now looking at ideas ranging from tax incentives to development-fee discounts that might spur developers to build more affordable choices, such as stacked townhouses and mid-rise condo buildings better suited to families.

Critical to the whole question of how — and exactly where — the region grows in the next few decades is Metrolinx’s $50-billion Big Move plan for expanding and better integrating GO and municipal transit systems across the region. It isn’t officially part of these public discussions.

“I think there is an opportunity in this review to focus on how to use our existing infrastructure and transit to better shape our region instead of continuing to grow at the outer edges,” where costly roads, schools and hospitals have to be added, says Marcy Burchfield, executive director of the non-profit think-tank the Neptis Foundation.

“We didn’t have the Big Move at the time of the growth plan. It provides an opportunity to be more strategic in how and where growth is allocated. We’re going to effectively have subways running to the suburbs (under a $10 billion-plus plan to electrify and improve GO Train service in the next decade), so why are we still focusing growth on the edges and not taking that population growth and allocating it to existing areas?”

There will be lots of debate and data — most of it, apparently, from non-governmental organizations rather than the province itself — about what’s working and what’s not, nine years into the growth plan.

“What we’ve tended to see is business-as-usual planning,” says University of Toronto professor Philippa Campsie, who has co-authored a number of Neptis reports raising concerns about how the growth plan is being implemented in some communities.

Too many municipalities are still approving subdivisions on the outskirts of the regions — requiring costly new services — rather than making it a priority to fill in unused and underutilized lands closer to already existing services, she notes.

Developers are expected to stress, yet again, that they are running out of land to build all the housing needed to accommodate population growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The Minto sales show, if nothing else, that there is in fact far more demand for traditional family homes than there is supply right now.

Neptis says there is more than enough vacant land to last to 2041 and beyond — it has identified 264,000 acres approved or designated for development — arguing there is no pressing need to expand urban borders any closer to the Greenbelt and Whitebelt lands.

The problem, stresses Joe Vaccaro of the Homebuilders’ Association, is much of it is tied up by “government inertia” — everything from a lack of sewers, roads and other infrastructure to service the sites, to lengthy and costly Ontario Municipal Board appeals over whether proposed developments can even go ahead.

Pratiti Ahrie and her husband, Vikas, know there is a need for balance — that not every farmer’s field can be paved over for subdivisions.

But they are stark examples of how housing affordability, and even intensification, is actually pushing some families to the outer limits.

They have been living in an apartment at Kennedy Rd. and Hwy. 401 in Scarborough since their 5-year-old daughter, Arya, was born. But they long for the open spaces where they grew up — Pratiti in what was, at the time, the brand new suburbs of Richmond Hill, Vikas in a rural area of India.

“We wanted to be free of all the big buildings, the busy subway, the chaos and the traffic,” says Pratiti, 32.

During a visit to a friend’s Newmarket farm, the couple discovered signs for Minto’s Queen’s Landing, located far enough away from the recently extended Hwy. 404 to feel like country, but close enough to the East Gwillimbury GO Train station to get downtown, where Vikas is studying to be a programmer analyst at George Brown College and Pratiti works for a company that does employee background checks.

Over the course of three months, the anxious first-time buyers explored the area by car and tested the train at rush hour. When the first 90 homes went on sale this month, right across from a bucolic farm not yet owned by a developer, Vikas realized competition was going to be fierce.

Some 7,500 people had pre-registered to indicate their interest for townhouses and detached homes on 36- and 43-foot lots, starting in the low $300,000s. Vikas called his wife on a Thursday afternoon to say he was going to sleep in the car until sales opened on Saturday.

By the time she arrived that evening with clothes, sleeping bags and food, others had arrived, too, and Vikas was getting an early start meeting his new neighbours. On the Saturday, they snagged a 2,150-square-foot townhouse on a 35-by-91 foot lot for $481,000, with construction to start next year.

“I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Amanda Wilson Watkins, vice-president of marketing and sales for Minto Communities. “We could see people on social media saying they were going to get in line.”

Some 7,000 homes are planned for the surrounding area over time as developers such as Minto come to see it as ripe for development now that the 404 extension is open, the GO Train station is nearby and the York-Durham sewer extension is being pushed north through East Gwillimbury.

“It’s countryside,” says Wilson Watkins. “It’s not been developed. This is pent-up demand we’re seeing because of that.

“There is still a very strong appetite for people to have traditional family homes.”

ONTARIO’S GREENBELT PLAN

The Greenbelt is one of the world’s largest protected swaths of green space, forests, wetlands and watersheds. Legislation creating the more than 1.8-million-acre area was passed by the Dalton McGuinty government on Feb. 28, 2005, with provision for a 10-year review.

As of 2011, it was home to 5,500 farms and more than half of Ontario’s prime Class 1 farmland, much of it in the fertile Holland Marsh area.

It contains just 7 per cent of all Ontario farmland but accounts for 55 per cent of the province’s fruit production and 13 per cent of its vegetable crops, according to the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.

Beef, dairy and hog operations have been in decline since 2001, going down faster than in the rest of the province. As of 2014, there had been a 43-per-cent decline in dairy farms, a 31-per-cent drop in beef farms and a 62-per-cent drop in pig farms, according to the foundation.

The David Suzuki Foundation has called the Greenbelt “a massive carbon storehouse,” with some $4.5 billion in environmental benefits. Its forests and wetlands combined store enough tonnes of carbon to offset the annual emissions of 33 million cars and trucks.

PLACES TO GROW

The program was created in 2006 with the aim of reining in urban sprawl, reducing dependence on the car, revitalizing downtowns and creating more walkable, compact neighbourhoods within easy reach of transit.

Places to Grow established a planning framework and set boundaries, region by region, for accommodating what’s expected to be some 13.5 million people living in the Greater Golden Horseshoe by 2041. It called for a combination of higher-density redevelopment on existing urbanized land — as has happened with condo and infill construction in Toronto — and set goals of 50 people and jobs combined per hectare for any new so-called greenfield development, largely in the more suburban regions of the GTA.

There’s considerable debate about what’s working and what’s not but surprisingly little hard data, so far at least, even from the provincial government.