Matthew Goulbourne

 A sea of red clothing flooded the Toronto Council chamber on April 3rd as city councilors spoke on the new zoning by-law that would affect all places of worship.

The Toronto Faith Coalition (TFC) made up of representatives from a diverse group of churches speaks for many protestant congregations in Toronto. Lead by pastors Alvin Nicholson and Kevin Begley, co-chairs of TFC, church members were encouraged to wear red to the city council to demonstrate their concern about unfair restrictions placed on Christian and other faith groups by the new zoning by-law.

Under provincial legislation the City of Toronto developed a single zoning by-law replacing 41 existing zoning by-laws. The harmonized zoning by-law has brought together the pre-exiting zoning by-laws of Toronto, North York, Etobicoke, East York, Scarborough and York.

As the new by-law was developed, TFC hired a municipal lawyer to review the issues that could negatively impact churches and other places of worship. The concerns the lawyer found were enough for the TFC to make an appeal to the planning committee for an amendment.

Parking requirements were a major concern.

“[The by-law requires for churches] in some cases, four times the amount of parking as for a theatre [place of assembly] would have.  This is not fair,” said Alvin Nicholson, TFC co-chair. The new parking standard is discriminatory when allotting commercial places of assembly; 7 parking spots per 100 sq meters of floor compared to 25.2 parking spots per 100 sq meters for places of worship.

The city states that parking must be provided for 90% of the main floor of the auditorium, however, TFC suggests that a more realistic figure is close to 70%. This is because auditorium space is not only used for seating but also for aisles, platform and altars.

A significant number of churches are in light industrial zones for two primary reasons; availability and affordability.

Toronto City Council wants to reclaim the light industrial zones solely as employment lands. Churches without updated permits will have to vacate and those who plan on selling their property will not be able to sell to other religious worship groups.

The city council voted to enact the new harmonized zoning by-law on April 3rd. The amendments of main concern to all places of worship were not accepted. Faith communities  did not lose on all fronts, however, TFC was able to negotiate that churches and other places of worship can locate in residential areas and on the ground floors of apartment buildings. Land in residential areas, though, is very expensive which will be of concern to faith based groups.

“It is going to change the way in which we do church,” Rev. Nicholshon said of the new by-law, “The church will have to be much more creative...churches will have to work together…they may have to amalgamate”