In the run-up to the OMB case and in the case itself, the necessity for a park was central. That the area is park-deficient was established early. The City admitted this, but didn’t want to spend money to provide a park. The park was not technically part of the OMB order, but we used the OMB proceeding to force the City to buy the land. And with the Councillor’s willing assistance, we steered Section 37 money to fund the build-out. That it was a struggle to get a park out of so much development is a kind of scandal.

Once we knew there would be a park, Active 18 pressed on the design front. First we ran our own design charrette in which we pushed for an integrated design for the park and the various bits of public access open space between the condos to increase the size of the public space. You can judge the success of that by a stroll around and through. We pushed the idea that the park would be space that would be used for community events, and, given the various arts facilities around the park, we called it an “arts precinct”.

This was followed by a formal City-sponsored design process—“the working group”—to work out the actual design. It is described below.

Finally, as stage one of the park was opened, the local councillor got a park committee up and running to advise on the management of the park. To me this is the final test. Will the park indeed be a community focus, and the park committee an active hub for activists giving a heart and soul to a re-made WQW community? (Hint: the provincial policies on intensification talk about the need for “complete communities” as the end result. A18 in West Queen West was way ahed of them in knowing that and working for it.)

At the OMB

What We Wanted—What We Got

Active 18 insisted on a park or parks to match the scale of development coming to the West Queen West neighbourhood. We presented the first Area Plan showing a park on the south side of the old 48 Abell building facing on the new Sudbury St. (See the charrette report here.) The area of Ward 18 was already parks deficient before the new developments, although we didn’t know the specifics of that when we started. We knew when we started that actually getting parks bought and built that measured up to City standards would be a stretch, given land prices. We proposed a compromise package of smaller, quality parks, public access open space around the proposed condos and street amenities. This package was intended, in its entirety, to compensate for less than adequate park land. We were trying to be creative and realistic.

The supplementary open and accessible space around the new buildings went by the name of “public access open space” (PAOS). This was a common requirement around new buildings in the downtown core. We had such a rush of new and dense construction that we had the opportunity to push for a network of PAOS in West Queen West. On this subject the Planning Division was helpful.

None Potential parks and open space after the OMB decisions. Technically there was no parkland awarded by the OMB on the land in issue in that case, just pubic access open space. But our commotion at the OMB and at the City forced the City to buy the land for Lisgar Square.

See 1998 Official Plan, Section 4.15 on requiring “common outdoor space” from developers in Central Area non-residential areas—“Council may pass by-laws requiring the provision of common outdoor space on lots in the Central Area which are developed or redeveloped, in whole or in part, for non-residential purposes in order to increase the amount of area available for pedestrian amenities including: planning, public seating and other functional open space adjacent to pedestrian areas.”

What we got from the OMB’s reasons was an endorsement that 0.4 hectares of park land should be provided by the City. But an endorsement is not a park. All agreed the City had to take the money it was getting from the developers, add some more to the kitty, and buy park land. It was months after the OMB reasons that the City announced parkland acquisition. More on this below. We tried, but didn’t get from the OMB a Hold on development permits until the City acquired the land. Vice-Chair Granger delayed his final decision on site plan details for six months to see what the City would do. More on this below.

None The yellow is the Lisgar Park space and the green shows other parks in the area

There was a huge row between Urbancorp and the City over the City taking actual land in the development for parks instead of money. And, as you may have guessed, there is more on this below. The resulting configuration of buildings recommended by the OMB leaves us with a small park, about half of the required 0.4ha, in the middle of a nest of tall buildings. We all suspected that the City would buy or expropriate the land to the east of the developments for a park. Consequently, we argued that there should not be tall buildings to the west of that land. And we got a 14 storey building at 48 Abell that would block sunlight if that became the parkland. The City’s delay in acquiring parkland has been an enormous problem. Read on.

The Need for Parks

It’s nobody’s fault that this former industrial area has no parks in place from the last century. In other downtown areas where residential building is taking place on large tracts of abandoned railroad or factory land, requiring sufficient parkland as part of a major redevelopment has not been a serious problem—for example in the Railway Lands, Regent Park, and the West Donlands, since they are often owned by one entity or specifically redeveloped as a whole. However, here we were wrestling with fragmented ownership and a staunch desire to develop individually. There was no dispute, once we made the demand loud and clear, starting in the working group meetings, that the City had to acquire some parkland. The City has the right to some monetary contribution for this from the developers (see below). No dispute, but was there any action from the Parks Division to actually buy the land? I could never figure out the failure to move on it. The lack of certainty about where the park would go was a major stumbling block to resolving the OMB issues.

At the working group, Active 18 presented some area maps showing possible park locations. We identified three possible sites in the Triangle area. Two of them would add up to 0.4 hectares, which was the compromise amount. 0.4 hectares is 33% of the standard which ought to be supplied. City Council finally instructed the Parks Division to ‘start shopping’ by Resolution at the July 25-27, 2006 Council meeting, but even that instruction was not authority for the Parks Division to write the cheque. Once a price is set, that has to be approved by City Council. If expropriation is required, that has to be specifically authorized. When the expert witness statements came out on July 30, the City woke up to the fact that it had the right to take actual land instead of cash where the developer had more than 1.0 hectare going into development. The City decided to change its approach with Urbancorp/Landmark for the 150 site (the only site over 1.0 hectare) and take land. The formal notice of this didn’t come until well into the OMB hearing. It caused the predictable reaction. Landmark’s whole site plan was now impossible. The City’s right to take land instead of cash was clear and could not be appealed. But it is still unclear to me whether the particular piece of land chosen by the City could be appealed. Landmark proceeded as it could and the OMB adopted by “recommendation” Landmark’s position on what part of its property should be taken. The City wanted the SE corner, the sunniest part.

I thought the whole procedure was pretty shabby and unfair to the developer. On the other hand, if this was what was going to happen, we supported the sunny park. I believe the City moved in this fashion out of financial desperation as they realized the cost of the purchase of a proper 0.4 hectare park and build-out. I have, and had, no sympathy. The City should have addressed the park shortage long ago. And if the City simply couldn’t afford the necessary park, or the park compromise, it should have said so clearly. Then we would have had a basis for saying “these condos just can’t be so big!” The management of this was terrible. The problem at the OMB regarding parks was what to do to guarantee that the park land would in fact be acquired.

The Standard for Parkland

The 1998 Official Plan has criteria for park land sufficiency and a map to show how different areas of the City rate. It clearly showed how we were (and still are) deficient. There was no plan to do anything about this unless and until some development provided a means of getting land or money. And even when these developments came along, between the Planning and the Parks Divisions there was no push for parkland from City Hall. We were the pushers.

The 1998 Official Plan sets out the the standard for parks. “The policy of Council in acquiring lands for district and local parks except in the Central Core, is directed to obtaining: (a) 0.6 hectares per 1,000 population for all persons whose place of residence is more than 0.4 kilometres walking distance from a regional park, (b) local parks at a distance of not greater than 0.4 kilometres for all persons whose place of residence is not within 0.4 kilometres walking distance from a regional park; and (c) district parks at a distance of not greater than 3 kilometres for all persons whose place of residence is not within 0.4 kilometres walking distance of a regional park.” 1998 OP Sec 4.21.

See Parks.

Parkland discussions before the OMB Case

When the three major development proposals were launched in 2006 it was clear that more park space was needed. This was discussed even before the OMB case started in the fall of 2006. Active 18 had the best plan for more parkland, but ours was not to be (see A18 at the OMB). But never mind that it was obvious, for months the City refused to move on this. As much as I could tell then—and I still think today—the planners and the parks bureaucrats simply didn’t want to spend any of their park funds on the likes of us. It was so bad that one of the developers bought the block to the west of the land disputed at the OMB which was the second best and most obvious place for a park because the city hadn’t or wouldn’t acquire land, and offered it to them for that purpose.

In the preparation for the OMB hearing, the Parks Division was pathetic. Their own studies showed that our area was the second worst in the City in terms of parks for the number of residents. And they, or the City, were refusing to fess up to this evidence for the OMB hearing. But eventually during the hearing we forced this out of the City witnesses. The area was parks deficient even before we added thousands of residents in the proposed new buildings.

We hammered at the issue of a new park at the OMB hearing and won it in the theoretical sense that everyone agreed a new park was necessary. I note it wasn’t a park in the place our original charrette proposal suggested. It was too late for that. But the need was clear and definitive. There was only one place for the park, the land to east of the three developments. We went through the whole OMB process without knowing if the City would actually commit to park acquisition, notwithstanding the admitted need. The Parks Division had to be forced to start the process to buy the only land available, which by this point was costly. In fact, eventually the developer, Baywood, bought the land and re-sold it to the City.

The City’s proposal at the OMB for a “park” for the thousands of new residents was a tiny triangle of land at the southeast corner of Abell and Sudbury. This was BAD. It was the point in the hearing where Active 18 opposed the City rather than supporting as we did regarding the general issue of scaling back on the intensity of the development sought by the developers. Map

When I complain throughout this blog about the City’s failure to plan, this is a prime example.

The acquisition of the raw land for “Lisgar Park” eventually came about by a City purchase after the first round of the OMB hearing and an OMB “order” to do it. In that hearing, Active 18 insisted there be a park for the new residents of sufficient size that the area, already park-deficient by the City’s own standards not be worse off after the first wave of new residents. That meant a park of 0.4 hectares, all the witnesses at the OMB agreed. And note, the new residents in the buildings coming after the first three developments that were before the OMB would mean the area was, in the end, even more park-deficient.

Further waves of new residents put the neighborhood even deeper in the park deficit hole!

My slight sympathy to the City because the money they get for parks for downtown developments is grossly inadequate. But no sympathy for leaving this problem of parkland acquisition, and all the other problems of planning development in the abandoned lands along the rail corridor, to the last minute when the cost was sky high.

But these settlements were not the end of the OMB case. The decision which we fought about all year in the appeals was an ‘interim’ one, general principles, without details. Now the particulars had to be worked out and if not, there could be more argument. Granger had reserved his final decision—in effect a temporary hold—until the road acquisition and the financing of road construction was worked out, and until 0.4 hectares of parkland was acquired.

I had made park acquisition my special mission in this planning fandango because, because it was so motherhood. It turns out, however, motherhood is complicated.

Parkland issue after the OMB appeals

As the appeals and related maneuvering were unfolding in 2007, the 1171 Queen West developer, Baywood, bought four more properties in the Triangle, three facing on to Queen Street and the entire block south of the post office where the City hoped to put the new park! So now the City had to acquire the parkland from Baywood.

The details of all the maneuvering by the City’s various departments regarding the parks acquisition is told in the documents. It is too detailed to recount here except for a few highlights. Notwithstanding the instructions in 2006 that the City staff move to acquire the Lisgar Square land, they had not done so by 2007, when Baywood bought the whole block out from under them. What was going on for a year was never explained. So the City was in the unenviable position of having to buy the north portion of the block back from Baywood at the same time as it was bargaining with them about other issues.

In the July settlement the City staff agreed with Baywood the City would buy 0.3 hectares of land from them for Lisgar Park but incredibly, still did not set a price! The City thought they could complete the necessary 0.4 hectares by virtue of taking over the small parking lot that fronts on Queen and which joins the new park on its northern boundary. But Planning had not negotiated that with the Toronto Parking Authority. I insisted that that negotiation be completed or I would argue that the Hold be continued. As I pressed for the balance, I got vague assurances that since the City owned the parking lot that fronted on Queen its conversion to parkland could be arranged later. Or that the Public Access Open Space in and around the other buildings was a sufficient substitute. Having seen the problems Planning had getting the Public Health Division out of the Carnegie Library I had no faith that the Councillor could control the Parking Authority. We had leverage at that point. I threatened to hold everything up in new appeals if that land were not delivered to Parks. To their credit, my threat was well received by the Councillor’s office as ammo to secure the last bit of park space. And at their December 10-12, 2007 meeting, City Council approved the 0.4 hectare park including the Green P parking site and that, “upon completion of the jurisdictional transfer, the lands presently used as a Toronto Parking Authority parking lot no longer be designated for municipal parking purposes.”

There was the possibility that Councillor Kyle Rae would block the transfer on behalf the Parking Authority because of loss of revenue concerns and because of the loss of parking in the neighbourhood. The latter was certainly a valid concern. I wrote to Kyle assuring him that we still felt the trade-off of park, parking and artist housing was the best in the circumstances. Whether that letter mattered, who knows? At the end of the day the 0.1 hectares was delivered from Parking to Parks. I had prepared an argument for the OMB that there should be a permanent hold until the full 0.4 hectares was in hand. At the last minute—it is always the last minute—the balance of the parkland was secure, as secure as the City could ever deliver.

One lesson here is that, notwithstanding the rule of thumb that the local councillor rules on local planning issues, it isn’t always smooth sailing. Relations between councillors are endless horse-trading. Sometimes the local councillor does not have the ability to get things through City Hall just so.

For the City and the developers the cost of the parkland was part of a larger financial negotiation which included the cost of acquiring the land for the extensions of Sudbury and Abell Streets, and then the cost of paving these new streets. We did not even try to participate in the endless discussions on the road issue. It was huge for the other players.

The underlying problem here was, as always, money. The developers were and are required to make a contribution to the City for parkland for each new development. And the City is, sort of, obliged, to build new parks. The statutory amount required of developers, five percent, is fine for suburban development, but nowhere near enough for downtown parks. (The amount has been increased to 10% in recent amendments to provincial legislation, but it is still too small for the park needs of the booming downtown areas.) The City had some accumulated trust funds available for parks acquisitions. We were consuming them all. I don’t apologize for insisting on this. I observe the under-funding of parks in the City.

(The Planning Act requires developers to give land or cash to municipalities—the City’s choice—for parkland. In suburban green field developments from farm land, municipalities take the land and do not badly by the deal. 5% or 15% of the land area in a sprawling subdivision gets you a park. Downtown it gets you a park bench. In the urban cores the amount of the alternative cash payment is such that it can’t buy much.

In 2007 the City responded to the requirement set out by the OMB by:

  • buying the vacant land between Lisgar and Abell (0.3 hectares) with park acquisition trust funds held for this purpose; and

  • transferring the Green P lot for the missing 0.1 hectares. The later transfer did not cost anything, as it was City land.

So finally the land for the park was acquired in 2007, and the first half of the park was actually built—in 2015. Just mentioning.

Once the land acquisition was locked down, Active 18 hosted a design charrette to stir up some excitement for the park and the idea of an ‘arts precinct’. (See Park Charrette.) This was brilliantly done by my A18 colleagues. (See our Report here.) Where was the Parks Division?

The then Councilor Adam Giambrone set up a park working group in 2010 to get community input on the design. GOOD. We had to fight with the Parks Division to get a say in park design and build-out. For some history of that process see Park working group. Those discussions were interesting and I would have said successful—until I saw the result, in particular the parking lot gravel that was sold to us as the latest thing. The design, at least, looked good and I will say the discussions and concept get an A. But then Parks blocked any detailed participation in the actual landscaping details even though we had a professional landscape designer and construction supervisor for another municipality in our group. I thought this was just a minor BAD until I saw the gravel they used as ground cover. BAD

Later in 2010, the revised proposal by Urbancorp for their development on the south side of the park, now called The Edge, made a deal with the City to transfer a slice of land along its border with the park in lieu of the cash requirement. That added 270 square meters to the park. In 2017 this still isn’t built out. Just mentioning!

And the Green P parking lot on Queen Street was the final part of the 0.4 hectares of parkland, which Parks acquired from Green P in 2010. There was a wrinkle. Of course. Part of the deal was that Green P got some underground parking space under The Edge for public parking. But they would not surrender the surface parking until the underground parking was in place. So Green P Underground was operational in 2015. Has the surface parking been surrendered in 2017? Or the revenue from it? No. Just mentioning.


This map shows the plan for public access open space after the OMB decision. The parkette at the south end was traded for more land on the south end of the park. Good. The extension of the Mews right to the west side of the triangle at Sudbury through the 1181 Queen West site was lost when Planning “lost” the Secondary Plan for the Triangle which was passed by Council but then never given third reading.

Active 18 charrette

After the City finally purchased the block to the east of the three developments that were at the OMB, Active 18 was anxious to make the most of what would be the new park. At that point, 2007, after the Leave Application result and settlement with the first two developers, and then the third, the land around the proposed park was vacant or abandoned industrial buildings. But we had vision, even if the Parks Division did not. Our vision was not identical to the first plan A18 had presented, because ours was in a different block, but it had the same spirit.

We wanted a park that animated and was a front yard for the new neighbourhood. We wanted it to reflect, by good design, the arts fabric of the old neighbourhood. And we wanted the park to be well integrated with the new buildings.

Once the park land was purchased by the City Parks Division, A18’s discussions regarding the park continued, intensely. The Parks Division was very reluctant to engage with the community on park design. We took matters into our own hands by running our own park charrette. Then, with the help of Councillor Giambrone, we eventually got seats on the City’s park working group. More on that below. (Park working group)

A18 decided to run another design charrette on the new park. We would invite the experts and the neighbours and the city bureaucrats and see if we could set a fire under them.

One big problem was that there were no immediate neighbours of the new park. They would be the condo dwellers, in buildings that, in 2008, did not exist and would not be occupied for several years. We did our best to think as we imagined they would. In some respects we were doomed to fail, inasmuch as the old neighbourhood was arts oriented and the new condo dweller might not be as interested in, for example, performance space, as we were. We tried for a design that could suit many purposes. The jury is still out on our success or failure in park design.

One interesting issue emerged rather quickly. A18 had an expansive view of what the public could and should design in this process. We saw all the public access open space as a contiguous part of the park design. This meant all the open space around the new condo buildings. The Parks Division wanted nothing to do with this. “Not our turf. We have no jurisdiction.” Interestingly, the developers were on our side. “We haven’t built yet. Let’s talk about a coordinated design. We’ll build it.”

As a practical matter, this was about the open space between the new buildings, especially “the Mews”. This was an issue at the OMB. We fought to guarantee that this space would always be open to the public. It was our effort to get second-best park-like space. Given that Baywood had persuaded the City to close a public right-of-way for a southward extension of Northcote, it was a right-sounding argument. It was a downtown kind of idea to provide pedestrian space between office towers, not something that was normally done between condo towers. But it was written into the OMB decision. GOOD

And when the new park space was secured, it was obvious that the City’s east-west laneway behind the Queen Street-facing buildings was fair game for part of a larger design perspective. This was christened “The Mews”. It ran from Dovercourt through to the extension of Sudbury. We envisioned it as an extension of the park.

As much as the Parks Division didn’t want to talk about this, not even a hint they might be eventually responsible, the Planning Division came on-side. The hard-nosed discussions about park design followed our charrette two years later. But Planning corralled the developers who were actually building in the meantime and sat down with elevations and sidewalk design and brick colours and hammered out plan of sidewalks etc. that flowed. No fences between neighbours. Planning had the legal clout to do this as part of site plan approval. The trick was getting coordination between the different developments. Good work.

An aside: this sounds, like, boring. Obvious. Details. But the devil is in the details. Developers want tidy property boundaries. There are insurance issues if they allow strangers to pass over their land, etc. We fought for public access open space, which meant, as a practical matter, no fences between properties. It is doable. But it’s easier for bureaucrats and developers not to. It was then already the norm in the downtown. In the West Queen West Triangle the norm spread.

Here is the Report we produced after our Park charrette. It’s terrific!

‘Public Access Open Space’

At the OMB, we stressed over and over that the park was not enough to redress the over-building which resulted from the OMB decision and its aftermath. Excellent integrated design of the park and the Public Access Open Space was required. At first Parks did not want to have anything to do with design outside the four corners of the park. We were saying that an integrated design to the Park and the public access open space was necessary. I note that the developers were entirely supportive of integrated design. Just tell us what you want before we build, they said. Fair enough. Parks could not get it together to deal with that. It fell to the Planning Division in working out the details of the landscaping in the site plan to assert some coordination of the public space. It was only when Bob Duguid took over as Parks rep on this project in 2010 that we got any kind of positive response from the Parks Division.

None Here’s the “public space map” from that time, showing the “love boat” in the land to the east.

None This is an interesting sketch of how the “love boat” and the new park might have been built in sync.

The problem was that the Parks Division did not take any responsibility directly or indirectly for land beyond the four corners of the actual park, not even a modicum of integrated design. Planning, which passively supported the public access open space at the OMB, was supportive of integrated design during the working group discussions.

But in the meantime, A18 organized its own charrette on park design and we spread our wings to the surrounding turf: the public access open space and an “arts precinct”. We wanted not just that the whole network of park and open space and laneway be read as one. As noted, the Planning Division was helpful on that issue. We also were ambitious that arts organizations should take up the available space along the Mews. “The Mews” was the ambitious name we gave the laneway (City owned land) that ran behind the the Queen Street facing buildings. If not arts, then at least stores and cafes that would bring foot traffic and animate the space.

Part of the settlement with the 48 Abell building after the OMB case was a relatively minor Section 37 benefit giving to the City the right to buy six units on the ground floor facing the Mews at supposed bargain prices. At the time (2008), we imagined this could be the basis for the arts-animated Mews.

In 2016 the City’s option to buy this space was still alive and about to expire. The units actually sat empty along the Mews. Both the City Culture Division (Laurie Martin) and A18 made efforts to find non-profit arts organizations which might take up the space. We were almost out of options, when a good one came along. There is a message here. There is a limit to the number of arts oriented non-profits that are strong enough to manage long term ownership and rental obligations.

Never mind that for now. As it happened, Ben Woolfitt, the long time operator of the art supply store that bore his name, was ambitious through a non-profit organization to start a private art gallery. And after some substantial negotiation with the City a deal was struck that this non-profit would buy the space. That gallery has yet to be built out. It is not exactly as we envisioned ten years ago. But good things come to those who wait.

Park Working Group

The next year, 2009, the then Councillor, Adam Giambrone, established a park working group of City bureaucrats and two community reps, Franco Boni, the director of The Theatre Centre and Charles Campbell—me! Things moves slowly here until late in 2010. This was the official effort to involve the community in park design. The evolution of this committee from consultative to selecting the park architect tells the story, again, of how the Parks Division doesn’t like the public “meddling”. They have a bad attitude compared to Planning. See References—Parks People.

It is interesting, pathetic really, how at odds with the public the Parks Division was. Planning has learned, perhaps been forced to learn, how to listen to the public, and sometimes, perhaps, absorb some of our ideas. Parks, not. This is inexplicable given the trend all over North America towards public participation. See Fertile Ground for New Thinking—Improving Toronto Parks, an excellent report on this done for the Metcalf Foundation.

The development of Lisgar Park was a major theme in 2011. The Park Working Group was not an Active 18 function, it involved the whole neighborhood, although, obviously, A18 felt ownership, having fought on the issue for so long.

Here is my memo to the Councillor and Planning and the Parks Divisions setting out a proposed mandate for the park working group. We stuck to this as our guide. Putting this out there was helpful to try to steer the discussion as we wanted. As described below, our view of the agenda went beyond mere park architecture and stretched beyond the four corners of the park land itself.

Park Mandate

There have been several meetings about mandate and several memos back and forth between A18, Parks Department and the Councillor. Uploading all the memos would be more confusing that useful. The details are not resolved as of the writing. Roughly speaking, the A18 proposal sees the Park Working Group tackling the larger bundle of park related issues and Parks has a narrower focus related to Park Design. Bob Duguid, Park’s Man on the hot spot, rightly points out there is a lot to do, just to get through the public consultation on pure park design. A18 rightly points out there are a lot of interrelated and somewhat broader issues that have to address more or less simultaneously although very different Staff may be required for these different issues.

There are no ‘hard’ positions at this point. Key points:
- There will be very public meetings starting soon about park design. No design decisions will be taken by the smaller LPWG.
- At the end of the day ‘City Hall’ decides.
- The Art Precinct idea feeds directly into the park design and needs to be worked out.
- The budget for the park based on Section 37 contributions received and expected from the various developments and the phasing of the park---build-out are important and tricky issues.
- Some form of park advisory board or neighborhood council should come out of the process of design consultation

It was only when Bob Duguid took over as Parks rep on this project in 2010 that we got any kind of positive response from the Parks Division.

Art in the Park

All public projects in Toronto, parks included, have to have some art. The politics of picking the art are as crazy as can be. In Lisgar Park, they are not over in 2017 because there wasn’t enough money to get some art in 2010, so the debate was theoretical.

Within City Hall, certain bureaucrats apparently have the authority to supervise the selection of public art. Those persons attended some of the early park design meetings. Their attitude was, “give us the money for art and we’ll pick a committee and the committee will pick your art.” They weren’t interested in participating in the discussion of park design. Active 18 had a different perspective. We wanted the art money to go to facilities within the park that would support performance—things and events that would not be permanent. As it turned out there was no money for art in 2010. It was all needed to build out the park. But with the next Section 37 funds there will be some money and the issue will be renewed.

Here is a “before” picture of the laneway north of the proposed park.


Financing the Park

How to Pay for a Park

Acquiring land for a park is one thing. Paying to build it is another. Cost was always a factor in the park working group discussions. Fair enough. So now how did we pay for building the park? Answer: Section 37.

You may have read how evil Section 37 is. One news article in 2006 referred to it as the “crack cocaine” of the development biz. (see Clippings 2006) Well, I guess that made me a pusher. It is widely supposed that the Section 37 funds become a slush fund for the local councillor. I can tell you, not our Section 37 funds. We counted every penny coming in and dealt quite directly with the councillor on the topic of how we should spend it. And the park build-out was number one on the list. Both Councillors Giambrone and Bailao were on side.

See Rants Section 37

Section 37 benefits

Here is the list of the Section 37 benefits from the various developments as of 2010, and their permitted purposes in accordance with the Section 37 agreements between the City and the developers:

1155 Queen Street W. 17/Jul/2008 (795-2008): $175,000.00

  • $175K payment recorded as part of $675K payment received in park budget from 1171 Queen W.

Community Benefit Secured: $175,000.00

Received: $175,000.00

Interest: $109.38

Spent Balance: $175,109.38

1171 Queen Street W.

29/Oct/2008 1178-2008(OMB): $500,000.00

  • OMB orders issued Jan. 8, 2008, Sep. 24, 2008, Oct. 29, 2008. OMB file PL051203. Cash contribution received Oct. 2, 2009. Index has declined so no additional funds due.
  • one or more of: affordable live/work or work spaces for artists; public art; new work space for Toronto Public Health to allow community/arts use of former space; renovations/restoration of Carnegie Library building; development of Lisgar Park. (index neg.)

Community Benefit Secured: $500,000.00

Received: $500,000.00

Interest: n/a

Spent Balance: $500,000.00

150 Sudbury St. (now known as 38 Abell St.)

29/Oct/2008 1169-2009 (OMB): $1,250,000.00)

  • OMB orders issued Jan. 8 2008, Sep. 24, 2008, Oct. 29, 2008. OMB file PL051203.
  • OMB orders issued October 27, 2009. City solicitor Tom Wall advised 100325 that the S.37 agreement is still in development.
  • for local arts and community infrastructure improvements, of which up to $250K may be used for the relocation of Public Health offices from 1115 Queen Street W. Secured by letter of credit.

Community Benefit Secured: $1,250,000.00

Received: $1,250,000.00

Interest: n/a

Spent Balance: $1,250,000.00

(I believe all of this went to The Theatre Centre)

40 Dovercourt Road

25/Feb/2009 $450,000.00

  • For one or more of the following within the site: affordable artist live/work studios and/or affordable artist work studios; public art; renovation/restoration of the Carnegie Library building, Lisgar Park, prior to building permit (indexed).

Location Totals $450,000

Note there are optional purposes for the money. At the time there was no certainty about build-out and having options for the Section 37 money was necessary. But it does raise the question: Who and how does ‘someone’ chose between the options? The Section 37 policy does not deal with this.

Note that in 2016, Council added affordable housing as a possible Section 37 benefit. This makes no sense. Section 37 is supposed to benefit the immediate neighbourhood with new community facilities in exchange for extra density. More housing doesn’t do this. Which is not to say that affordable housing is not a benefit of a sort to the city as a whole, which is short of affordable housing.

The possible trade-offs among the various Section 37 benefits among the various projects was a complex negotiation. It involved the Planning Division, aggressive or not in their dealings with particular developers, the Councillor, who would have final say in how the money was spent, and Active 18.

– Part of the 48 Abell project is a social housing project for low income residents, which A18 supported and which was taken as the Section 37 benefit for the whole project with no cash contribution. The developer said “we can’t afford it” and the City seemed to accept this without examining the books. The City also got an option to buy at cost some ground floor units on the north side of phase two along The Mews. But a build date for phase two was not planned and the value of this was questionable. See Art precinct. It could be gloomy and unattractive if there wasn’t major change to the Woolfit building on the north side of the alley. We thought the space might work well as cheaper arts oriented space. The original vision of the Mews was as a low rent art gallery corridor. There was nothing in place to enforce this vision.

– The Medallion building (a rental building) on the east side of Lisgar, gave the City free space on a long term basis into which the Public Health offices, now located in the Carnegie Library, could be moved. This got them out of the Library so it could be converted to a theatre.

– The new building at 150 Sudbury paid $1,250,000 in Section 37 benefits, $1M verbally committed to the rehabilitation of the new theatre building, and the other $250,000 going to building the offices for the Health Division in the new space.

– The Bohemian Embassy paid $675,000 for 1171 and 1155 Queen Street W. In discussions it committed to buy the units on the north side of 48 Abell, which was a non-starter, and then to cost the build-out of the new park.

– When the appeal case regarding 150 Sudbury was settled, part of the deal which A18 promoted was a little extra height in exchange for a commitment by Urbancorp to sell 70 units to Artscape at cost, which they could rent out or sell to artists. This benefited the community by providing cheaper space for artists in the neighborhood to compensate for the fact they/we were losing 48 Abell, a historic haunt of low rent studio space.

The role of Public Health in all of this was interesting. Their use of the elegant old library for cubicle office space was an illogical waste of grand public space but they fought to keep it. Perhaps because it was a zero cost for space on their budget. But they certainly never showed any concern for what was happening in the neighborhood. Does providing them free space consist of subsidizing programming, in violation of the Section 37 policy that these monies not be used for programming? Hush. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. We may have disputes with Parks and Planning, but at least we can get moving in the general direction of the neighbourhood interests. Not the Health Division.


A Park for the People

There were few occasions in ten years of political and legal push and shove when I felt any sense of accomplishment or pride. One was in the fall of 2016 when Councillor Bailao hosted a meeting of the entire condo neighbourhood to invite their participation in running the park. A goodly crowd appeared, mostly people I didn’t know and there seemed to be enthusiasm for various park activities and committees. Quite contrary to the earlier struggles, the Parks staff were totally open to all this public participation. The final build-out of the park was promised for the summer of 2017.

I had nothing to do. I did nothing. I was happy.

Generally I wondered whether the younger ‘millennial’ crowd who seem to inhabit the surrounding condos will be as interested in this type of public activity space as the artist types and their friends who dominated the discussions of public space before the condos were built? Time will tell.

Also, I will say it, I wanted to vomit each time I heard city bureaucrats talk about this wonderful park they—they!—had brought the community.

The Result

I have an opinion on the result. You can skip this if you want because,in 2017 and after, you can see the result and form your own.

  • Regarding the public access open space around the various buildings, in pursuit of which I waxed eloquent at the OMB hearing, the Mews portion and the Northcote park, which is technically part of the Bohemian Embassy property, turn out to be large enough and seemingly open to the public that they count to me as public. The rest are like paths through private property. There is no “keep out” sign. But there might as well be. I’ll take the net result as a win.
  • The square feels right. Yes, it surrounded by tall buildings, but is not dwarfed by them.
  • The layout of the park looks OK, so far. It remains to be seen when the rest of the space is built out whether it will function as a centre for community activities.
  • The supposed problems with the park are: no grass; no dog run; nothing for children. I was persuaded in the design process that the park would be too busy for grass to last and a harder surface was required. But I hate what was chosen. I hate it so much I won’t go in the park!
  • Dogs can run on the south side of Sudbury.
  • We didn’t expect so many children in the condos. They’ll have to do something. But I note there are other children’s parks in the area.