As Toronto gets more and taller condos, the city is left grappling with shadows

When Lynne Craigmyle moved into her Yonge and Eglinton-area condo five years ago, she had a wonderful unobstructed view and lots of sunlight streaming through her west-facing balcony.

But since then, new high-rise condo towers on her street, including a 34-storey building on the northeast corner of Roehampton Ave. and Yonge St. and one under construction across the street, have significantly reduced the invigorating rays hitting her third-floor unit.

Shadows cast by tall buildings blocking out the sun can upset residents who are impacted. After all, when buyers drop massive amounts of money down for a condo, sunlight is often a major selling feature.

Shadows cast by tall buildings blocking out the sun can upset residents who are impacted. After all, when buyers drop massive amounts of money down for a condo, sunlight is often a major selling feature.

And she’s not happy about that.

“Now I’m lucky if I get an hour of light. I need to have my indoor lights on all the time. It’s getting worse. I’ve become very depressed,” says Craigmyle, a senior who lives with her 26-year-old son, Collin, in an 800-square-foot unit in her mid-rise building.

“I used to be able to see the sky, but you can see how much of the sky is left now — next to nothing,” she says, adding that before the towers showed up she used to get a good half-day of sunlight beginning around noon.

“The building on the northwest corner is dead centre in the middle of our view,” Collin complains.

Shadows cast by tall buildings blocking out the sun can upset residents who are impacted. After all, when buyers drop massive amounts of money down for a condo, sunlight is often a major elling feature.

Studies have also shown that exposure to sunlight can boost serotonin, a chemical that controls our moods and that reduced sunlight can lead to decreased energy and sadness.

But with a citywide housing shortage leading to calls for more density, it seems Toronto will inevitably become further shrouded.

Toronto’s Official Plan has policies aimed at limiting the impact of shade on parks, school yards and other open spaces as well as policies pertaining to shadows on private areas. For instance, the section on “apartment neighbourhoods” calls for acquiring buildings “so as to adequately limit shadow impacts on properties in adjacent lower-scale neighbourhoods, particularly during the spring and fall equinoxes.”

The section also calls for new buildings to “maintain sunlight and comfortable wind conditions for pedestrians on adjacent streets, parks and open spaces.”

The city requires shadow impact studies as part of the highrise development applications for proposed buildings about six storeys or taller. Typically in Toronto, the applicants — the team of developers, builders, architects and others — submit the shadow impact studies and city planning staff review them. City planning staff might also prepare their own shadow studies during application reviews, appeals or city-led planning studies, a Toronto planning department spokesperson explained.

This following is three scenarios from a 2015 sun/shade study submitted to the City of Toronto for the E Condos project at Yonge St. and Roehampton Ave. The study, prepared by Bousfields Inc., included 20 scenarios showing the proposed buildings (in blue) and their shade impact (in purple) on the street and on approved (in yellow) and existing (in white) buildings at different times on different days of the year.

Engineer Ralph Bouwmeester, who operates a company in Barrie specializing in sun and shadow positioning has helped municipalities such as Ottawa, Whitby and Mississauga prepare shadow impact standards.

He believes Toronto needs shadow standards that set out specific targets and limits.

“The current standards simply set out the dates and times to be modelled but don’t offer any insight into what is acceptable or not. Too much is left to interpretation, which leads to delays,” and possibly planning appeals, Bouwmeester argues.

In the summer, Toronto approved a downtown plan known as TOcore which talks about the increasing importance of “the need to preserve sunlight to ensure comfort” for residents and workers in Toronto.

The plan includes policies for no net-new shadow on a number of parks and open spaces, playgrounds and other areas.

The plan says development will “not cast net-new shadow as measured from March 21 to Sept. 21 from 10:18 a.m. to 4:18 p.m.” on parks and open spaces on a map that includes a number of parks in the city, such as Queen’s Park, several along Toronto’s waterfront, Berczy Park near Yonge and Front Sts. and Clarence Square park at Wellington St. and Spadina Ave.

The plan also calls for new developments to “minimize net-new shadow on all school yards.” It includes policies geared toward limiting the impact of shadows on private spaces such as a common terrace in a condo building.

In New York, a startup has added another tool for residents trying to avoid being left in the dark — one the creator hopes to bring to Toronto., a free website launched in April, uses artificial intelligence to tell potential buyers how much sunlight hits all sides of every building in New York City, where tall towers rule the day.

The website is based on a complex algorithm that provides predictions on whether daylight a building gets now might be blocked in the future.

“New buildings are constantly being built, (old) ones being knocked down, new zoning regulations are introduced. You want to be able to tell people, ‘OK, over here you have this much sunlight but this building will be knocked down and a new building has been approved that will block the sun,’” says president Steven Kalifowitz.

The site, which lets users plug in any New York address, also gives a host of other details for about 100 categories, including the safest streets for cyclists, buildings most prone to noise from airplanes and areas most likely to see flooding.

For its shade prediction feature, designers had to simulate where the sun is throughout the year, analyze the amount of sun and the time when the sun hits every point on every building in the city, and take into account data on newly zoned buildings in the pipeline.

The company’s goal is to bring to Toronto some time next year. Toronto has a dynamic real estate market and a “good availability” of open data, Kalifowitz says.

Engineer Bouwmeester says the website, which he has navigated, is a “very cool visual tool” but he believes his for-fee service offers studies that are more accurate and reliable for the purposes of a hearing pertaining to a development application.

He said researching shadow impact is “just part of the due diligence of making a purchase of that magnitude.”

“People invest multiple millions into a home and they enjoy sunshine and want to ensure the home they are purchasing does have access to the amount of sunlight they expect. They don’t want to buy a unit and find out later, ‘Oh, I only get one hour of sunlight a day,’” Bouwmeester says.

Unfortunately, homeowners can’t always see skyscrapers coming. That’s the situation Lynne Craigmyle, the condo owner near Yonge and Eglinton, finds herself in, dealing with diminished sunlight.

And moving to another address isn’t really an option for her because doing so would probably mean more expenses, she says.

“If I had known moving in (to my condo) that these buildings would be coming, I wouldn’t have moved here,” she says.

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