Air Rights: What They Are and Why Toronto is Trying to Acquire Them

Air rights
Joe Cressy/Twitter

Last week, Toronto’s Executive Committee voted to move forward with acquiring the air rights of about 1.2 hectares of air space beside Union Station for the development of Rail Deck Park.

During a meeting last Thursday, the committee voted unanimously in favour of beginning expropriation proceedings for three acres of air rights that are located above the railway tracks south of Front Street between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way.

The City of Toronto currently owns the air rights for about one-acre of the space but needs to acquire the remaining three acres in order for work to begin.

By acquiring the rights, Mayor John Tory said the city can start building Rail Deck Park sooner.

READ: City Looking to Secure Air Rights for 3 Acres of Rail Deck Park

Air Rights

For those who don’t know what they are, Toronto-based Irwin Law describes air rights as the “right to use, control, or occupy the space above land.”

“Generally speaking, air rights are the property interest in the “space” above a piece of property or building. They are created by a stratified reference plan. Owning land or a building generally includes the right to use and develop the space above that land or building. Air rights can be acquired through a negotiation between an owner and an interested party (purchaser) just as would happen with the purchase and sale of a property, home or building,” said a spokesperson for the City of Toronto to Toronto Storeys.

Essentially, if a building is not built as high as zoning laws permit, the owners can sell the rights to the extra floors to adjacent development.

The city’s website also provides an example:

“If you wish to install a greater area of windows than may be normally allowed, they may go through a registered agreement, use the “air rights” of the adjoining property.”

According to the City of Toronto, negotiations with the owners to acquire air space in the Rail Deck Park project area at fair market value have been ongoing since 2018 and have had no success to date.

Rail Deck Park
Conceptual cross-section of Rail Deck Park/City of Toronto
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