More Tools in the Box: Municipal Powers to Develop Sustainably

  • February 14, 2023
  • Graham Reeder, associate, Gowling WLG

Bill 23 has generated significant discussion and controversy by cutting back on municipal powers to levy development charges and parkland fees.[1] These tools have long been used to ensure that new development pays for the underlying infrastructure needed to make communities healthy, safe, and livable. Development charges and parkland fees have also been heavily relied on for municipal sustainability plans. While the merits and drawbacks of Bill 23 continue to be debated, municipalities have not lost all of their tools to implement sustainable development. Here is a brief overview of municipal powers to address sustainability in land development.

Green Roofs

Section 97.1 of the Municipal Act, 2001[2] and section 108 of the City of Toronto Act[3] give authority to municipalities to pass by-laws that require the construction of green roofs and other similar roofing alternatives that achieve similar results. Sections 97.1 and 108 limit the powers of municipalities to pass green roof by-laws that do not conflict with regulations under the Building Code Act governing public health and safety, fire protection, structural sufficiency, conservation, environmental protection, and barrier-free access.

Green roofs help lower surface and air temperatures, decrease energy demand, reduce and filter stormwater runoff, absorb pollutants including CO2, provide natural habitats, and can even serve as recreational green space.[4] Toronto made history in 2009 as the first city in North America to enact a bylaw requiring green roofs on new developments. The bylaw sets out a graduated green roof requirement for new developments or additions greater than 2,000m² in gross floor area ranging from 20-60% of the available roof space of a building. Applicants can seek an exemption allowing a smaller amount of green roof in exchange for a $200/m² payment to the Toronto Eco-Roof Incentive Program.[5]