In 2006 the Active 18 Community Organization (A18) joined a major, consolidated OMB hearing regarding three development projects south and west of Queen and Dovercourt. The case became notorious for good and bad reasons. This is story of what we accomplished, and failed to accomplish. On my original blog I wrote an account of this in 2008, after the OMB case was settled. This is a re-write. A great many problems in planning politics that pre-occupied me in the years after the OMB case were already being played out in detail in the 2006 OMB case. The factual history hasn’t changed, but my attitude to what we accomplished and the go-forward lessons to be drawn have evolved and sometimes changed dramatically.
We never had an impact on the terrible planning for the Triangle area south of Queen and west of Dovercourt, despite a valiant effort. This was mostly abandoned industrial land beside the railway tracks. There was one exception—the old factory building at 48 Abell that was filled with affordable studio and living space for artists. The neighbourhood to the north was the cheapest residential neighbourhood close to the downtown and definitely not Rosedale. Queen Street itself was used-appliance stores and other low-rent enterprises. It had a bit of an arts-grunge vibe. And what was it at the end? A poorly laid out, over dense, condo neighbourhood with a hint of an artsy flavour.
To sum up our own rationalization and self-congratulation—it could have been a lot worse without us. There is good park and some arts institutions that wouldn’t be there in 2017 were it not for our efforts. We did this by pressing for maximum Section 37 benefits. This is described below. The bad part of the story is that we couldn’t do better than that—which would have been to save more of the neighbourhood as affordable arts work space.
The speed with which all this change happened after the OMB case, through some twenty different development proposals, was astonishing.
History is good to record. And here it is. But more important, are there lessons to be learned? Is the history helpful to other community groups? The answer to that is difficult. Yes, there are some lessons that can be learned. But given the booming Toronto economy and evolving planning law, some lessons need some up-dating.
In 2017 the battle of West Queen West seems most significant as a harbinger of how and whether the extreme intensification being forced on the City by the province can be managed in any way that saves or re-creates human neighbourhoods? Viewed from thirty storeys up this is what we were trying to do. And it’s still really too early to tell how well we succeeded.
I tell the story here with a fair amount of detail, including legal arguments. Sorry to those who hate lawyers. But this is the stuff you need to learn. As the story progresses I will digress into details about planning issues and rules that are general and not specific to West Queen West. I hope it is helpful.
I thought then that planning politics was one of the few places outside electoral politics where citizens could have some influence by their own efforts. That optimism has diminished greatly over ten years. It’s an open question whether OMB-oriented fights are worth it anymore. You’ll see in the [Comments and Rants]/planning/comments-and-rants/) section that I think community activists should look elsewhere.
We enjoyed working together and enjoyed the struggle and our accomplishments. Bottom line—it would have been a lot worse, if not for us.
The OMB case was decided in early 2007 and was followed by ten years of further development and negotiations. This part of the story gets told in South of Queen Street, Lisgar Park, TMAC, Queen Street and North of Queen. Of these, the story of Lisgar Park is the hardest to break out of the story of the OMB case because there is so much overlap. The park was a central issue in the OMB case and putting the analysis of the park issues in a separate chapter is a stretch. But there is an extensive follow-on story about park development that goes on long after the OMB case was done. And so we stretch.
What is West Queen West?
The area south of Queen, west of Dovercourt, and north of the railway tracks, which angle north west, forms a triangle of land that came to be known as the West Queen West Triangle, called such because the stretch of Queen Street that borders on its north side is known as West Queen West. West Queen West itself is so called because the stretch of Queen Street to the east of West Queen West is usually called Queen West. Got it?
The Triangle was once entirely industrial land abutting the railway. In 2006 it was a mix of vacant land, old warehouses and some relatively new, one storey, industrial/warehouse space. There was also one new, nine-storey residential rental building operated by Medallion Properties.
The south side of Queen Street in the WQW Triangle was unusual for Queen Street. Queen Street is mostly miles of Victorian-era three to four-storey buildings, mostly purpose built retail. It is a wonderful mix of small stores of every kind. But the WQW stretch of Queen where the railway crosses Queen was mostly abandoned industrial or more-or-less temporary uses, for example, a car wash. It was properly a bit of acreage ready for redevelopment.
But there were some notable exceptions to this generalization. 48 Abell was an old warehouse converted to artist studios and residences. Urban sociologists would call it an incubator for independent arts projects. The habitants and habitues knew it!
The original Carnegie library for Parkdale was also on the south side, then used by the City’s Division of Public Health. Everybody but the Division of Public Health wanted to recycle the building for some more public use. It’s now a theatre. Read on, to find out how that happened. Next door is a classic of its genre, a federal Post Office building from the fifties. Architecturally wonderful? Perhaps not, but all Canadian. The rest of the buildings on the south side are serviceable, low-rise, low-interest structures. One of these is Ben Woolfitt’s Art Supply store, a new but core business in the neighbourhood. Hate the building, love the store. Just east of Dovercourt, just outside of the Triangle, is The Great Hall. This is one of the great Victorian piles, turrets and all, left in Toronto. It was built as the West End YMCA in the nineteenth century and has had numerous uses ever since. In 2007 the downstairs was home to The Theatre Centre, a small and dynamic home base for cutting edge theatre events.
This is the map drawn by the Baywood development company at the very early stages of discussions, showing the proposed location of their building and the locations of other buildings that existed at that time.`
This is a map from the early stages. You can see in dark green the three proposed developments. The location for Lisgar Park/Square is shown but it had not even been purchased. Gladstone Park was and still is a fantasy. You can see a public walk stretching from Dovercourt on the east, right to “Gladstone Park” at the west.
The retail on the north side of Queen was very downscale, mostly used appliance stores and a few bars tbat catered to the 48 Abell crowd. The Drake Hotel, on the north side, is no visual wonder but it has been famously upgraded and brings monied art seekers and film festival partiers to the ‘hood, dismissed as wannabes by the “real” artists who serve them Kiwi daiquiris and organic asparagus tips in rare Moroccan oil. Never mind the snobbery. The “art” programming at the Drake brought class to the neighbourhood. Also real estate agents.
At the west end of Queen, before you reach the railway underpass, is the chief glory of the neighbourhood, the Gladstone Hotel, across from what once was the Parkdale Railway Station.
South of 48 Abell was a field. That’s a compliment. It’s abandoned industrial land, overgrown with weeds, and a small pond where…that’s another story.
48 Abell—arts hub of another era—just before demolition
This “field” and pond was the site of the 150 Sudbury development proposal of Urbancorp, for an 18- and 12-storey condo project. The site had been purchased and rezoned years ago and when all this started, had permission for a subdivision-like project of four-storey stacked townhouses.
The area south of the tracks was wasteland. It is now a townhouse subdivision with a 19-storey condo, also owned by UrbanCorp.
To the east on Queen is the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), just starting what is supposed to be a major makeover into a consolidated centre for hospital services and research on mental health and addiction problems. Much of the open space around the existing hospital is to be built over with offices and residences. We are losing a lot of the open space for the neighbhourhood, space which looks like a park but is seldom used. This project got permission to go to 8 storeys for its Queen Street front.
To the north of Queen is a solid residential area, generally well kept but modest, with a large Portuguese population. It is interesting and disappointing that this group remained silent through all the planning politics of those years. For a district so close to downtown the neighbourhood was, surprisingly, not so gentrified. But in 2017 that is no longer true.
Here come some technical terms, get ready. The area along Queen Street was zoned Mixed Commercial Residential (MCR) and, to the south of the Queen Street strip, the area was Mixed Industrial Residential (MIR). MCR allowed residential coverage up to 2.5x coverage (that is 2.5 times the area of the land it sat on), and MIR up to 2.0x. The “mixed” designation will become central as the story progresses. The mixed category here also means that an owner could build 1x coverage industrial, or commercial. In other words, either industrial or residential, or commercial and residential are permitted, up to certain limits. [See my rant on Mixed Use]/planning/comments-and-rants/#employment-rant). The maximum height allowed along Queen Street by the current zoning is 13 meters, with a stepback, then another three meters, about five storeys. This is in keeping with, or higher than, the existing height all along Queen Street. We fought to keep this height limit and lost. The City was our enemy on this.
The junk journalists called our neighbourhood “bohemian” back in the day. When I moved here I called it “cheap” in the kitchen, and “affordable” at the office water cooler. In those days, the real estate agents called it Little Portugal. Now they call it “Beaconsfield Village”.
One day in 2005 a Starbucks opened on the northwest corner of Queen and Dovercourt, a change the bohemians identified as the beginning of the end. Then the Drake Hotel, at the Queen Street foot of my street, a notorious dump, was given an expensive (and respectful) retrofit into an “arts” hotel by Jeff Stober, a decamped dot-com capitalist. A “destination” hotel. Its arts-related programming was upscale and inspired. There were line-ups from the opening night.
Then the Gladstone Hotel, a block away at Gladstone and Queen, completed its makeover into an arts hotel and event venue, somewhat more downscale than the Drake. The Zeidler family took loving care to preserve the features of this 1880s hotel. Its somewhat artier programming was more in keeping with the neighbourhood. It was just as successful as the Drake. A few years later I went for a walk with a friend from New York and discovered twenty little galleries among the used appliance stores. A little further east on Queen, a sex club had tastefully restored one of the old Queen Street buildings. Is a classy sex club “bohemian”?
“Bohemian” became a selling point. The first condo development was called The Bohemian Embassy. Here’s the famous “Bohemian girl”. The advertising material won prizes, but its relation to reality was zero. The local artist-types felt they were being sold and sold out. None of them wore the fishnet outfits of the billboard bimbo. Nobody we knew was dying of tuberculous or had a boyfriend named Rudolfo.
By my definition, a bohemian is one driven out by high rent. She doesn’t look like she made the cut.
A dozen years later we have a high rise jungle, a gravel park, franchise food and dentists. And also some fab building restorations.
Development proposals for three large scale projects landed at City Hall in 2005 and 2006, for adjacent sites in the western half of the Triangle. The tale is convoluted. Meetings and numerous issues before the OMB hearing, maneuvering for position, the hearing itself and then complicated appeals, and finally settlements of the appeals—all this before you get to the end result. You might say “Fie on all this!” Not an irrational reaction. But following the story told in slow motion is a pretty good road map to how other similar problems get played out.
This map shows the property owned by the the various developers in 2007, after Baywood bought 1181, 1155 and 1055 Queen,
The first proposal was by Baywood Properties, a company that specialized in Collingwood condos and had never done a downtown development. They wanted 10 storeys on Queen Street and a second tower, originally of 26, then reduced to 19, storeys, to the south closer to the railroad tracks. This project came to be known by its Queen Street address as “1171”, and was marketed as “The Bohemian Embassy—an embassy of hip…don’t tell the government cause it isn’t meant for everyone.”
Here is an early sketch of the Bohemian. The sidewalk is as wide as a tennis court and Queen Street looks eight lanes and…there’s one car! Never mind. Think how “bohemian” this factory knock-off looks.
Then Verdiroc Properties came forward with a proposal to replace the 48 Abell warehouse building with two 19 storey towers and a somewhat smaller building between the two—altogether a monstrously huge building that would occupy the entire footprint of the old building. To my way of thinking this was the most grossly over-sized of all. The owner of the property, Merv Hollander, operated his lighting business out of the building and rented the rest of the building to the artists. Until he didn’t, that is. He contracted with Verdiroc as the developer for the site. And, it was said, he wanted that part of the project to be affordable and for artists. [That’s what happened. A GOOD for Merv Hollander.] The west wing of the proposed project was to be the “affordable housing” part. Hollander and Verdiroc contracted with St. Clare’s Multi-Faith Housing Society, a respected operator of affordable housing projects, to become the eventual owner. The hitch was that the “affordable” wing needed to receive significant government grants (called “allocations”) before this would work. (For the meaning of the mysterious word “affordable”, see [Affordable Housing]/planning/comments-and-rants/#affordable-housing16).
Verdiroc at first said that their huge density, as well as the allocations, were required if the affordable wing were to proceed. There were such grants available through competition and Verdiroc and St. Clare’s had done well in these competitions in the past. But they would have to win almost half the available allocations for all of Metro to reach their supposed minimum of 180 units to make the project financially viable.
Here’s a sketch of what Verdiroc proposed for 48 Abell, from the northwest. Never mind that Woolfitt’s and the carwash sat on Queen blocking the view of proposed building. One would NEVER see the Queen streetcar AND the building in the same sightline. In the sketch the streetcar is either six feet tall or Queen Street is twenty lanes wide.
And a sketch from the southeast
Here was a difficult problem for Active 18. On the one hand, we strongly supported an affordable building in the Triangle as part of the mix. Better yet, affordable units mixed in with the more expensive condos. But we opposed tearing down the old building as a way to get affordable units, and if the building was to come down, we opposed the massive building proposed for this small site, which was the price of getting the affordable building from the owner and developer. By-the-book planning says you don’t approve the built form of a building depending on its use, you don’t “people plan”, because buildings last longer than people. So we didn’t buy the developer’s pitch of an affordable building as part of an overly dense package (for more on this, see [Built Form]/planning/comments-and-rants/#limits-of-built-form-planning)). But we did offer a settlement to this developer at a very early stage: build 14 storeys as the affordable project and leave the rest of the building.
The owner proposed to build in phases, the affordable project at the west end first and then the rest. He proposed that any existing tenants who wanted space in Phase One when built would have priority there. In other words, people could get re-housed in the neighbourhood. This special effort on behalf of the tenants was excellent but the bottom line was that the new space was so small it was useless as a replacement for the larger studio space in the old warehouse.
The residents of 48 Abell had their own association, Model 48. If we were good at publicity, they were better. They had a “RunRun” and then a “funeral” for their home, soon to be demolished, with a hug-the-building stunt. It is difficult for folks without any leasehold security to speak out. Good on them.
The last proposal came from Landmark Properties which is part of the Urbancorp group, a major Toronto developer, controlled by Alan Saskin. It put forward a proposal for its one hectare site, the vacant land, to replace the existing approved site plan of stacked townhouses with another for two towers, 19 and 12 storeys, with an address of 150 Sudbury. This project had a supposed fringe benefit. Urbancorp was offering to build a public access, pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks which would join this development with another they were building on the south side of the tracks at 1100 King West. The bridge was to be designed by the noted British architect Will Alsop, who did the striking new building on stilts for the Ontario College of Art and Design. Alsop made a highly publicized appearance at the opening of the ridiculous sales centre on Queen Street for the 150 project. Alsop also designed the sales centre, no doubt on the back of a napkin. It was an odd looking thing and was slated to be turned over to Ben Woolfitt when the sales effort was over. Is it true that the most interesting architecture in Toronto is for condo sales offices?
This is Will Alsop’s sales office for Landmark’s project. I love ridiculous! It’s neck-in-neck with the “Bohemian girl” for the WTF Award.
These three projects would put 1300+ units and 2000+ people in a small area at the west end of the Triangle. See Appendix #2,, a massing diagram showing the three proposals in the form sought by the developers.
Other developments were proposed for the Triangle in 2006 which had not yet worked their way through the planning system. Medallion Properties had a proposal for the block to the east of the three noted above, for large rental building between Abell and Lisgar. Another proposal for the property at the NE corner of Dovercourt and Sudbury had not yet been formally made. The former would replace some one storey light industrial buildings owned and operated by Medallion. The later was a warehouse site that replicated the problems of 48 Abell. These are described in the chapter South of Queen.
The A18 charrette—2006
Margie Zeidler, a key Active 18 founder, organized and paid for a charrette that eventually took place on March 4, 2006. Big GOOD to Margie. A charrette is architect lingo for a session where expert architects and planners discuss with citizens an urban design problem. The theory is that the experts are supposed to put into technical form the wishes of the citizens. Or is it, the experts gently guide the citizens to a wise conclusion? Let’s ignore that point of high theory for now.
That event was a great success from the point of view of community education and participation. There was excellent discussion with suggestions on many fronts. The mews idea for the north side of 48 Abell, for example, had universal approval. The discussion went on without regard for existing zoning, Official Plan provisions and the like. It was a [Preliminary Brainstorming]/planning/comments-and-rants/#provincial-planning). The result was an outline in booklet form of the best overall plan for the neighbourhood, which you can find on page 37 of the booklet. The plan never came about. The Brainstorming report was the basis of a neighbourhood consultation and another excellent report) which Margie produced.
The report, which Margie produced, was presented to the public and the press and was the single most important factor in giving Active 18 some chops in the politics and public debate that followed. Our press conference to present our conclusions was held the same morning as, and across the road from, the Baywood’s launch of their 150 Sudbury sales office with the famous Will Alsop as guest speaker. Active 18 was excluded from that press conference by the developer. I was so proud.
The Eight Big Points from the charrette report were:
- 48 Abell should be maintained
- Respect for the scale and nature of Queen Street
- Establishment of true mixed use zoning
- Introduction of streets and blocks into the Triangle
- Need for green space
- Pedestrian/cycle link to the areas south of the tracks
- Sustainable architecture
- High quality design
The Working Group—2006
By about March 2006 former Mayor John Sewell had been retained (again to be paid by Margie Zeidler) to represent Active 18 at the Ontario Municipal Board. I set out to be helpful between the client group and the advocate, something I knew all about from many political cases in the court context, and to sit through an OMB case as an assistant and to learn something more about one of my law school passions—planning law. John Sewell was a hero to me in those law school days, for his up-front community organizing.
John proposed that a working group be set up of all the parties and the City, in order to review the proposals and negotiate a settlement. He was emphatic that such a forum had to be small and tightly organized to have any chance of succeeding. This was a classic Sewell to try to make progress with thorny municipal problems. I took on the task of negotiating with the Councillor’s office and the Planning Division on the structure of the working group. The folks at City Hall were insisting on a large working group with representatives from all the relevant City departments, the developers and many other community groups. The Councillor insisted on chairing. Their notion was not a forum to negotiate but rather a forum for public discussion. I made no headway in implementing John’s instructions. The City’s theory was that the working group would have limited membership, but the meetings would be open to the public however and speaking rights would be limited to the members.
The working group finally got launched and met five times in large public sessions. Because of time constraints the planning staff reported their recommendations after the third meeting.
John was clearly right that no negotiations would take place in this unwieldy forum. Indeed the developers didn’t even speak for the first few sessions. What was going on? I realize, in retrospect, that the various City departments were being muscled by Planning and the Councillor’s office to get their ducks in a row to address this complex planning problem coming down the pike. The City wasn’t close to being ready to negotiate, let alone negotiate in the eye of the public, let alone be forced to admit in public that they had already agreed to several crucial issues. The Parks Division , in particular, was embarrassing at these meetings. Their input on the subject of park location and acquisition was absolutely necessary to get serious negotiations going. How do you talk about an Area Plan and proper massing and built form for six large buildings when you don’t even know where the park will go? Parks sent different people to each meeting and gave the standard puff piece presentation. I was furious. I think Planning was embarrassed. For all my BADS on the Planning Division throughout this blog they get a GOOD for their efforts at this stage to pull this one out of the fire.
Active 18 did a lot of preparation for each of these meetings. We presented several alternative parks plans. We presented a draft Secondary Plan done by John Sewell. (See [Built Form]/planning/comments-and-rants/#limits-of-built-form-planning) for more about Secondary Plans.)
The whole process was an education for us. Perhaps City Hall learned something more about what the community wanted. But in terms of a negotiating forum, it was a zero.
The working group meetings were well attended by the public. We even hosted a mixer at the Drake Hotel before one of the sessions. The vibe was good, but a fat lot of good it did us.
Adam Giambrone, the Councillor, was a big disappointment to many of the folks watching because he didn’t take on the developers. I thought so at the time. But in retrospect, realizing how disorganized and unprepared City Hall bureaucrats were, it is clear he couldn’t have done anything more. The staff were not even ready to deal.
During this period, Sewell and I went on behalf of Active 18 to meet privately with two of the three developers. John was strong on trying to make a deal with them, then bring the City on side. He, famously, has little faith in City Hall. Urbancorp (Landmark—150 Sudbury) refused to meet with us! We had interesting but inconclusive meetings with the others. We went with negotiating instructions from the A18 steering committee. The goals we had seemed reasonable to us, and were later embodied in the Secondary Plan Sewell drafted for us.
At a later stage I came to realize the City and the developers were locked in a struggle over who would pay for the paving of the extension of Sudbury Street, which was a key City objective but an issue about which we cared little. Their negotiations went nowhere. We were excluded from these discussions. We did not object. How many meeting can you go to? Consequently we missed one of the key dimensions of the fight.
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Heritage Designation of 48 Abell
At one of the working group meetings the City staff responsible for Heritage announced that they had decided to designate 48 Abell as a heritage building. If approved by the City’s Heritage Preservation Board (and then Community Council and then the full Council) this meant, we thought, that the building would be saved. It isn’t so simple. (See [Heritage]/planning/comments-and-rants/#heritage12))
The developer weighed in with an engineering report that was given to City staff. That report, on the structural condition of the building, argued that the old building could not be incorporated into a new larger structure. It was presented as a report that proved the building could not be saved.
At a subsequent meeting of the Heritage Preservation Board, the proposal to designate 48 Abell was withdrawn from the Agenda and so the proposal disappeared. Lesson: Not only should you go to the Planning Division, working groups, and Community Council, never miss a meeting of the Heritage Sub-Committee, on the third Thursdays of months starting with J.
48 Abell circa 2007
But that wasn’t the end of this issue. In mid-September, Adam Giambrone caught up with all this and indicated he had a method for getting the heritage designation before the full City Council. Thus the designation issue sprang to life again. This was weeks after we had started the OMB case! If successful, the resolution would have pulled the rug out from under the 48 Abell proposals. The timing was absurd, as was much of the rushed work on this file.
The effort by the Councillor was sincere and his able assistant Kevin Beaulieu lobbied hard. The other side lobbied harder. The motion lost at Council in late September.
Community Council 2006
Before the OMB hearing got started and before the working group meetings were finished, the Planning Division made some recommendations in four reports, a general one for the Triangle and one for each of the three proposed developments. Those reports were disclosed to us at the end of May and went to Toronto and East York Community Council for the June 13 meeting for a decision on what would be the City’s position at the OMB.
Public deputations are heard at Community Council, which is a committee of the full City Council. After consideration here, decisions are considered by full Council, which usually rubber stamps the Community Council decision on planning issues.
Again with John Sewell’s guidance, we prepared a list of amendments to the Planning staff proposals in their report and circulated these before the meeting as our proposed improvements to the City’s position. (Proposed A18 Motions on Queen West Triangle and Sewell Email re: Draft Part II Plan 2006.) We lobbied all the Councillors. We knew the “rule” was that the local Councillor had the only vote that mattered, but we made the rounds anyway. We felt we were unsuccessful in getting Adam Giambrone’s serious attention. He threw lob-ball questions to Planning Staff witnesses at the meeting to shoot down every point we were trying to make by way of amendment. The only change that came out of this effort was to place a hold on the three developments until parkland was acquired. (See [Parks]/planning/comments-and-rants/#parks)).
At the time, we were quite disappointed with the recommendations coming out of the Planning Division, and their approval by Community Council. But then so were the developers who did not accept the position of Planning staff limiting their height and thus cutting back their density. There was no progress on parks except for the proposed imposition of a “Hold” at the OMB. The City’s goals for affordable artist spaces were very small. It was at this time that the City first surfaced its “no net loss” policy as a compromise way for the developers to satisfy the requirement of employment space as set out in the Official Plan as part of this type of re-zoning. It seemed weak to me at the time. It was too late, it wasn’t very clear, and the OMB eventually rejected it. But it was the beginning of a “Hail Mary pass”, a good effort by the legal and planning staff to protect work space in the downtown. (See [Jobs]/planning/comments-and-rants/#jobs-jobs-jobs).) Better planning provisions should have been in place long before this.
Preparing for the OMB
After this meeting we felt that the OMB was our only hope. We felt at odds with the City as much as the developers. The OMB case was set for September 5. A list of experts had to be submitted by July 15 and their witness statements exchanged by July 30.
John Sewell started preparing the Active 18 case for the OMB with my assistance. We were both proposing to work pro bono. John was insistent that we needed expert evidence if we were to make any impact. The next ten years taught me how really, really, really right he was. Indeed as things are now run you do need expert evidence to make a dent at the OMB. (See [the OMB]/planning/comments-and-rants/#the-omb))
We recruited John Gladki to be our one paid planning expert, at reduced rates. He would do the heavy lifting in the expert column for our side. John is one of many planners who have left the City planning staff since amalgamation. He was sticking his neck out in his consulting world to speak up for the community, but he was strongly opposed to the erosion of basic planning control via the ambiguous label “regeneration”. (See [Built Form]/planning/comments-and-rants/#limits-of-built-form-planning)) Margie Zeidler agreed to pay his (much reduced) fee, if the group couldn’t raise the money. We had our list of witnesses in by mid-July, and their statements done by the end of July, all as required. Our statements constituted a bound book of about a hundred pages.
About the beginning of July, John Sewell told me he was planning to run in the pending municipal election as Councillor and would not be able to do the case. I was left as next at bat. We prepared the witness statements together and John went away for the month of August. As he departed on July 30, five feet of material from the other parties arrived and I started my review. I have lots of experience with long trials and the management of different kinds of expert evidence but not, as I made clear to everyone, planning evidence.
August was the cruelest month.
The OMB Hearing
The joint OMB hearing for the three projects began September 5, 2006 and ran, off and on, for 35 days, wrapping up December 18 with the last of the final arguments for the 150 Sudbury proposal.
The hearing was broken into two parts. The first dealt with the macro evidence, applicable to all the developments. In this section the City took the lead, presenting the evidence which the other parties cross-examined. The issues as they applied here to all of the developments were, for example, the complex hierarchy of applicable planning “law”, parks, factual evidence relevant to housing and employment targets in the Official Plans, the employment trend to new “creative industries”, West Queen West as an arts “hub” and employment node. Then we had three specific hearings on the three proposals before the Board, all of which incorporated the macro evidence. This was followed by a separate day of argument on each proposal.
I calculated the total cost of this exercise would be, if we valued the time of the City staff and me at something like market rates, about $2.5 million! [7 weeks of hearings × 5 teams @ $25K/week = 875,000; × 2 for preparation = $1.75M; plus experts at 50% of this = $875,000; Total = $2,625,000]
Active 18 was a Party with full right to cross-examine on every issue. Any group with an interest in the full range of issues could have similar status in a similar hearing, more or less for the asking. Citizens and other groups just wanting, or just able, to make a presentation one day, are allowed to do so if they sign up at the pre-hearing as a Participant. All this is settled at the first pre-hearing. Technically, groups who want to present are supposed to sign up at the pre-hearing, and provide a statement of their evidence on the same schedule as the Parties, but there is discretion to allow something later with less notice. Indeed there were some last-minute statements in our hearing which Mr Granger handled with suitable generosity and aplomb. Mind you, none of the Parties were objecting to the latecomers.
As noted, Parties are required to provide witness statements in advance. I was surprised by the degree to which deviation from these statements was permitted in the actual evidence given. But it was the case that both the City and the developers were revising their positions in major and minor ways as the hearing progressed. (See Chapter 9, [Process]/planning/comments-and-rants/#process-process-process), for the new rules on this.)
Technically the cases before the OMB were the developers’ three different applications to have the OMB determine whether the changes they had each proposed to the City to revise the zoning Bylaw and Official Plan provisions applicable to their site, and which the City had not determined within the requisite 180 days, should be approved and imposed upon the City. The City had eventually turned down the applications by virtue of a Council decision of June 27, 2006 adopting the Community Council resolution of June 13. But the 180-day limit had run out before that. If the City had acted earlier, it is possible that we might have been facing an appeal from the City’s refusal, but the issues would have been the same. [Ten years later I was complaining about the City not deciding on developers applications on a timely basis—or at all—but in this instance it didn’t make much difference.]
The planning report adopted by Community Council had included instruction to keep bargaining. And indeed, there was lots of bargaining all along, even by the experts as they testified for their clients. That’s not much different than how a complex civil case might proceed in a long trial.
My greatest fear through August was that the City would settle with the developers and we would be left, at the last minute, opposing the developers all alone, with very weak evidence of our own and the difficult problem of borrowing City witnesses to try to make our case. (You do this by subpoenaing them.) As things evolved the City dug in and presented a strong case, especially on the employment issues and my fears dissipated as the hearing actually got under way.
In retrospect, from 2017, it wasn’t a strong case. But it was a determined effort. Dawn Jubb, the City lawyer, worked very hard. I thought it was outrageous to send one lawyer to fight three teams of lawyers for the developers. She needed more back-office support, just another example of how the City is out-gunned at the OMB. The complaint that the OMB “always rules against us” rings hollow. We assisted Dawn as much as we could. We had the same position as the City on many issues. It was a good example of the real dynamic for community groups at the OMB. They/we will usually lose in a fight against the developers and our task is to force, and help, the City to fight. Very weird.
The City’s staff planner in this hearing was Elise Hug. I thought she did brilliantly, especially up against big-time experts twice her age.
Almost all the documents entered as Exhibits are in our database here.
I had a whiz-bang assistant at the hearing, Kate Wood, a law student. She generated a near perfect transcript of the proceedings. This was remarkable because the OMB does not transcribe its proceedings. Go to Doc Library and search OMB-September-28 and follow your nose and you’ll find Kate’s notes of each day’s proceedings. This isn’t an official transcript but it’s pretty close, from fast-fingered Kate!
In the first half of the hearing, which dealt with the macro issues, a key issue was whether the regeneration provisions requiring some employment uses would be translated into a requirement for no net loss of employment uses from the existing uses. This was the City’s theory, which the Board rejected as too vague. Active 18 thought it was too generous! What we got was a total conversion to condos. This is an instance where the City’s failure to have a more specific plan in place before the developers applied for their rezoning really hurt.
The ending of the hearing was not so tidy. Mr Granger gave reasons which decided the basic built form issues and expected the City and the developers to put the results in by-law form. But there were important issues unresolved. The lawyers had agreed to put off argument on Section 37 until we had the basic result from the Board. (See [Section 37]/planning/comments-and-rants/#section-3715).) This made sense because we did not know the possible amounts until we knew the approved size and, despite all the difficult legal issues about Section 37, it seemed that if developers got close to what they wanted, they would abandon their objections and fork over the money the City wanted. And it wasn’t just the amount of Section 37 money that remained unsettled. The terms of a deal with Artscape or another body to govern artist live-work space could be unresolved and back before the OMB. Further, the details of design, fence lines and trees and, and, and…all of which are usually worked out in a site plan agreement, might, if not resolved between the parties, end up back before the OMB.
But the biggest item left unresolved was what to do if the City did not acquire the parkland necessary for the huge developments. (See, [Parks]/planning/comments-and-rants/#parks))
Regarding the massing and density and layout of the Triangle developments, the City was trying make up for the fact they had no plan by having a joint hearing. They, and we, argued that the design of the proposals for one project should be considered in light what of their neighbouring development would look like. This is a perfectly sensible notion. You might have thought it was working as you listened to the evidence for six weeks. But at at the end of the day the OMB seemed to ignore all this. The reasons from the OMB are utterly silent on the collective issues. There are other places where I might be thought to be defending the OMB. These three related decisions are good examples why not! On the other hand, the City had already screwed up before the OMB ever touched these cases.
At the OMB
There were meetings between the City staff and 1171 developers before there were any meetings with the community or Active 18. The City conceded in advance, or appeared to concede, key issues such as closing the Northcote right-of-way. When the WQW battle came alive after that, it wasn’t really possible to go back on that. The developer was stubborn and proceeded to draw up plans based on what they thought the City would agree to, or had agreed to.
Active 18 also had an early meeting with the urban design consultant for 1171 and the architect Brian Sickle of Page + Steele. They brought detailed drawings and asked our opinions. The discussion was forthright. The design concept of industrial/factory style building all along Queen was thought out and deliberate. The problem was, in my view, not so much the design concept as the bulk of the building. Above street level a flat wall rising eight storeys faced the street and extended for almost two blocks. There was, at the time, nothing like it the entire length of Queen Street.
Where the building faced Northcote Avenue on the north side of Queen Street, there was a tunnel entrance to what was to be a pedestrian walkway where the Northcote Avenue on the City’s right-of-way ought to have been. Queen Street. One worthy opinion (I won’t give the name here) was that the building “wasn’t bad, just wrong for the site.” My view was that a lot more could have been done, even at street level, to break up the monolithic effect. That said, the scale of the building on Queen was way too large but that was non-negotiable for the developer by the time they had got to speaking to us. City Planning had already signed on.
The second part of the Baywood proposal was an eighteen-storey condo tower south of the Queen Street building. It was an ugly box. This never changed.
The height of this project changed as the case progressed but the developer’s desire for 4.5× coverage never did, and Baywood got almost that in a shorter, fatter, building.
The basic configuration, with a smaller Queen Street building, a tower behind and a large open space on what would have been the extension of Northcote Avenue, was never in issue at the OMB as far as the City was concerned.
But it was an issue for our witness John Gladki. He said the Triangle area should be better broken up into city blocks and giving away the Northcote right-of-way prevented that. And the precise placement of the tower mattered. Would it block a clear view from Queen down the Northcote extension to the Sudbury extension? Should the tunnel or “passage” be approved, or should the whole of the Northcote extension be open to the sky? And what was the appropriate height on Queen?
At the OMB, the City’s staff design expert, Mark Van Elsberg, tackled Brain Sickle on the stepbacks at the upper storeys on Queen Street and on the placement of the south tower such that the alignment of the Northcote Extension with Northcote itself was frustrated. But the City staff had by that point committed to supporting eight storeys on Queen Street, albeit with stepbacks at the upper storeys.
Our witness, Dean Goodman, an architect of great local knowledge as well as professional reputation, was the only expert supporting the existing height on Queen Street.
Brian Sickle was often incensed that others were telling him how to design his building. If he is the measuring rod, more detailed design control by the City, or peer review, will be very difficult. He objected to the suggestion his client might have to move the building to the west a few yards to protect the sky view of the Northcote right-of-way.
I believed Mark Van Elsberg was totally right to say it should be moved to the west. Mark was objecting to the tunnel, per se. He and we wanted the tunnel view to be clear down to Sudbury. In my view it was too late in the game to insist on the better design. The City had effectively given away the game by agreeing to the tower. In this argument, as in so many others I witnessed afterwards, the unspoken premise was that the developer’s desired gross density should determine the size of the building. Nobody, except us, dared to say: “So what? You get a smaller building! We don’t care what you paid for the land!”
Here’s the passage as built. It is certainly not high enough to be inviting. And the location of the 1171 tower blocks the view through.
The original design for the two 150 Sudbury buildings was a step sideways in design from the regular plain condo. One of the buildings was not a box, but a curve. And the marketing was that purchasers would receive a piece of art for “free”. Hardly in the same league with the Bohemian girl. That’s a GOOD. The exterior of the box building featured colour panels which were to give it a distinctive look. These two buildings were situated far enough to the south that we didn’t care about the overall height. But the curved building that squeezed into the courtyard of the 48 Abell building was one building too many in the Triangle build-out.
Urbancorp/Landmark floated the idea of building an overpass from the 150 building to their project on the south side of the tracks at 1100 King. This was and still is a great idea. They had a quiet meeting with some members of Active 18 to brief us on this at a very early stage. But other than that meeting they refused to meet with us privately before the OMB case started. The idea of the bridge disappeared because the Planning Division was not prepared to give any density credit for such a bridge. “We’re getting another better bridge across the tracks further east,” they said. Surprise! That never happened. Whether the Urbancorp bridge was in fact feasible is not a question I know the answer to.
The settlement of the Landmark part of the appeals after the OMB case came about when the City changed course on parks, from cash in lieu to an actual land contribution. The land contributed on the south side of the new park and due north of Urbancorp’s other building at 2-90 Lisgar made eminent sense. And it meant that that they could build at the south end of the their property, where the City originally wanted to put a parkette. (See, [Parks]/planning/comments-and-rants/#parks)
The two buildings as eventually built have no colour panels and are as dreary as any condos in the City. And the siting is, as expected, too crowded.
Here’s 150 Sudbury as built—before 48 Abell was torn down.
We were opposed to tearing down the existing warehouse building. That was a losing argument atthe OMB. We had offered early on to settle all issues by keeping the north and east wings and supporting a tower to replace the west wing. No deal. Verdiroc was supportive of the idea of a mews on the north side where there is now a city lane. The land available for Verdiroc followed the footprint of the warehouse and thus was very constricted. They wanted two towers—writ in stone. The actual design was very late in materializing, which is to say in July 2006, just a month before the OMB hearing started. The developers hired a specialist in restoration and historical architecture to design a façade for the podium in an industrial style. It was an effort to think about a style that fit into the neighbourhood.
In a nutshell, the developers got just about everything they asked for, the City lost just about every point they tried to make and we got nothing we asked for. We got a set of buildings with a density greater than anything else in the neighbourhood by far and greater than St Jamestown. The requirements of industrial land (read: land for employment), which seemed required in the Official Plan, were brushed aside. We got a lot of tall buildings, with the stress on a lot, but certainly, some were expected. And we got a lot of publicity. And then we got a planning fight that morphed into a legal and political one.
A chart that summarizes the result is here.
Three massing diagrams tell the story:
What the City wanted going into the OMB hearing for the three properties in question [PDF]
What the developers wanted going into the OMB hearing [PDF]
What the OMB allowed [PDF]
Two other massing diagrams are informative. This one shows the City’s vision for massing and build-out for the entire Triangle area, not just the three developments before the OMB, applying consistent principles (theirs). And this] shows the massing as proposed by the three developers for their sites projected consistently for the entire Triangle.
The permitted densities were:
- 48 Abell—4.59
- 1171 Queen—4.29
- 150 Sudbury—2.78
The average is 3.75.
The result was a major disappointment for everyone, except the developers. And it was a big news story. Various people rallied to insist the City appeal.
Active 18 staged a press conference right after the decisions were announced. The turnout was good. It was very effective, particularly Ken Greenberg’s denunciation of OMB control over planning. Councillor Adam Giambrone raised the issue of an appeal in his speech. The various columnists weighed in on our side. And we were off and running in the 2007 events described below.
Shortly after the decision was announced, Margie Zeidler hosted a meeting at her office of various influential types of her acquaintance to discuss the decision and what to do about it and the OMB generally. I attended with Dina Graser for Active 18. The meeting was spirited but fuzzy on particulars and follow up. I left that meeting with the strong impression that an appeal was expected, which only Active 18 could do (other than the City, which at that point was not close to committing). Oh good, more legal work! At least a court would read documents, and at least pretend to deploy logical argument. (On the other hand, our courts are extremely averse to intervening in planning arguments.)
On January 15 we had a press conference at City Hall to discuss the result. My statement there was as follows. It will give you an idea of the key issues arising from the decision. Since the results are discussed in much greater detail below, I’ll make do with the press statement for now. I should add, if you don’t remember, that the OMB result set off a torrent of criticism not only of that actual decision, but also of other planning law reform issues. Front and centre was and is the role of the OMB itself in supervising Toronto planning. Ken Greenberg spoke eloquently at the press conference on this issue.
The following press release summarized our criticism.
#1 “Too dense”
The cumulative effect of the decisions is a concentration of buildings that is far too dense. This arises from a combination of height, spacing, gross density, lack of parks, and constricted open space between the buildings.
- 4 towers over 14 storeys.
- 8 more eight storey buildings.
- In a three block triangular area.
- Distance between buildings is too small.
- Between two 17-storey towers is 27 meters.
- Between 48 Abell west building and 150 east building is 18.3 meters.
- Between 48 Abell east building and the 150 east building, if there is a central park, just 12 meters.
- There are no standards in the Official Plan to stop this.
- Official Plan requires 2x coverage for residential.
- We are getting four.
- Compared to the redesign of Regent Park at 2.1.
- Or the redevelopment of Mental Health facility at CAMH just east on Queen Street at 2.3.
- There was one other development proposal within the Triangle already at the OMB and three others we knew were being considered.
- The park issue was not settled at the OMB or before City Council.
- Proper parkland would not solve the problem of the overly dense nest of buildings. It would help.
A—How much is necessary?
The area was park-deficient before the development proposals were received. The OMB accepted that 0.4 hectare was the standard of additional parkland necessary in light of the three proposals before it just to stop from falling further behind in parkland compared to the rest of the City. This was a compromise because the amount of park land necessary to meet City standards would be 0.6.
B—The “central park”
Part way through the hearing the City changed its position on the parkland requirements for one of the developers, at 150 Sudbury, and said it wanted actual land, instead of a cash contribution to the City’s purchase of land. The developer, not surprisingly, objected to this last minute change. The City is entitled to do this. The City said it wanted land in the southeast corner. The developer said ‘if you must take land, take it in the middle. The OMB agreed with the developer. So what we got, it appeared, was a partial satisfaction of the parks requirement, is a small park, 0.179 hectares, in the middle of the condo towers.
It would have very little sun –- a ‘park in the dark’.
It was undisputed that the City had the obligation to provide parkland. It appeared as a result of the OMB decision that the City had the obligation of providing 0.2 hectares, more or less, within the Triangle.
The OMB imposed a Hold on the approvals for six months to see if the City could fulfill this obligation.
If the City did not provide the parkland then the case would go back to the OMB. (See OMB, re: 150 Sudbury, at p 9.) We would have opposed the developments if there were not the minimum parkland required.
It was not just a question of the parkland but also the cost of building the parks. We said from the start that if we were taking less than the necessary and proper amount of parkland, we would demand some quality, something better than stick trees and a sandbox.
The City parks witness said getting the funds for build-out might take years. This was completely unacceptable. Our Councillor had his hands full.
There was clear evidence that the City needs work space more than residential. The City’s record in job growth was, and is, dismal.
Mixed ‘Industrial’ zoning in old buildings is ideal for “creative industries”. This is planning slang for the surge in employment in such things as IT, film, video, design and the arts. These which are the growth sectors of the future.
- Artists are local variants of creative industries.
- We had Mixed Industrial zoning in place in the triangle.
- Protecting industrial uses in mixed use areas in plans was and is poor.
- Developers wanted to change from industrial to residential.
- The City put in a good defence of the general need for industrial uses in mixed use areas—BUT the City abandoned enforcement of existing industrial zoning in favour of a “no net loss” policy
- Both branches failed. (See OMB, re: 150 Sudbury, p 7.)
The other attempt to save the employment space in 48 Abell by ‘designating’ it for cultural purposes under the Heritages Act was rejected by City Council.
Loss of work space is a problem of general significance beyond the problem in our neighbourhood. If the City is going to lose its work spaces for the only growth sector in employment, the City will die economically.
OMB Decision—My Comments
Mr Granger announced three identical interim decisions January 10, 2007. The developers except Westside got more or less everything they asked for. Westside Loft, aka. 150 Sudbury (owned by Landmark owned by Urbancorp Developments, owned by Alan Saskin) got two buildings, 13 storeys and 9 storeys at 150 Sudbury St. (OMB Decision). At 48 Abell owner, Merv Hollander, and Verdiroc Development Corp. got two buildings, 18 storeys and 14 storeys and an 8-storey base building between. (OMB Decision) At 1171 Queen, marketed as the Bohemian Embassy and owned by Baywood Homes, the developer got 19 storeys and 8 storeys on Queen. (OMB Decision.)
These six buildings in total added far greater additional density to the Triangle than was sensible, in my view. The density of the three properties is greater than St Jamestown. It might have seemed at the hearing that Mr Granger was treating the three proposals from an area perspective when dealing with massing, roads and parks and employment, which was good given the City’s failure to have an Area Plan in place. But in the reasons it was as if each project was separate and got the maximum density possible as if it had no neighbours. Height was not the big issue to me, or Active 18, except on Queen Street itself. We always said “tall and skinny is good.” Mr. Granger forgot the skinny.
A second area of great disappointment for the City and Active 18 concerned the OMB’s refusal to impose any requirements for non-residential uses (the existing requirement in a Regeneration Area is at least 1× coverage). The City offered a compromise position of 0.7× coverage. But the Board rejected that position. Yes, the City’s compromise proposal came late in the process, and was ragged in its theoretical underpinning, but nevertheless a minimum requirement of some sort was obviously necessary. But out went the baby with the bath water.
This was a defeat for the City of broad consequences because it signaled trouble ahead for the protection of employment space in all mixed use areas across the City. Mr Granger seemed to think that the only protected space could be in the few purely “industrial” areas. Mixed use designation seems to mean total residential conversion is OK. The whole argument was absurd in that the City was talking about requiring the replacement of only 70% of the employment space existing at the time. For most of the Triangle, the buildings had been torn down. There was nothing to replace.
On the crucial question of parks, Mr. Granger “sort of” imposed a requirement of 0.4 hectares for the Triangle. All witnesses accepted this was the minimum necessary to keep the Triangle area from falling further into a park deficit. But he declined to impose a hold on future development until this land was acquired. Instead he withheld his final decision for six months to allow the City time to complete the park land acquisition. The City witness said it would take at least a year. And indeed the parks acquisition issue was still unresolved at the end of 2007. The park issue is mostly dealt with here in the section on Lisgar Park
We got nowhere on the Queen Street height issue, but I did not expect anything on this front given the City’s support for eight storeys along Queen Street from the earliest stages of the 1171 application. We got nowhere on the issue of the overall density, which did surprise me. I expected that Mr. Granger would cut back on the amount of building. It seemed so obvious there was a problem of a very small area with too many big buildings and limited parkland. Our strong support of the City on the “non-res” issue yielded nothing. This surprised me. I admit I was worried about this not because I thought the City was wrong—though they sure could have been stronger by having their policy in place sooner—but because the tone of the developers’ argument was so self-assured I was carried along. Still, I did not expect such a dense residential conversion to be the end result.
Couple all this with the fact that, given the small size of the units, the majority of the new residents would surely be young singles, I feared we were heading for a clubland disaster zone.
In summary, the City was completely unsuccessful at the OMB and Active 18 was equally shut out except with respect to the park. This wasn’t a case where it was the residents against the world. We were backing, and being backed up by the City itself on many if not most issues.
You have to ask, seriously, why should community groups put in so much effort just to be brushed aside in this fashion? If we had had a big budget for fancy expert submissions—I’m talking $50,000—we might have been listenend to. My view is that we still would not have been listened to. Only if we had had that big budget and were throwing the expert reports around before the developers went knocking on City Hall doors might we have had a chance. A strategy of hanging back and hoping the City will fight the case, and not committing to expensive expert evidence yoursel until it is absolutely unavoidable, if ever, is unlikely to succeed.
City Planning Functions Failed
At the time I agreed with Ken Greenberg that in principle the OMB ought not to be supervising the City’s planning. He spoke eloquently on that after the OMB case. In 2017 I have changed my mind. We need the possibility of the OMB as a threat to deal with a Planning Division that mostly wants to deal out community groups. They have made too many mistakes for me to trust them to plan well all on their own. See [Reforming the OMB]/planning/comments-and-rants/#omb-reform).
The unfortunate WQW decision by the OMB should not be set up as an excuse by the City for its overall poor performance in this matter. It was the City that came before the OMB with no proper plan in place.
One reason for this disaster is that the budget of the Planning Division is strapped and planning staff simply can’t keep up with the work required. The staff who worked on the Triangle file worked extraordinarily hard at the OMB and did a good job, in my view, presenting evidence, particularly regarding the employment issue. But it was too late.
Lack of planning resources may be a reason but it not an excuse. There were many stages where the City—in its many manifestations—failed to make the right decisions as the fiasco unfolded. For example:
It should have imposed an interim control by-law early on, but senior staff refused;
It should have had a revised Part II Secondary Plan in place before these applications started;
It should have moved on parks acquisition long before it did;
Staff supported the developers position on Queen Street height at eight storeys. This dwarfed the buildings on other side of the street and is inconsistent with the character of Queen Street;
Staff agreed to the tunnel entrance to the Northcote extension, which is the equivalent of abandoning a public street;
Staff were very late in moving to take land for parks as opposed to money from 150 Sudbury;
The move to designate 48 Abell as heritage was too late.
I note that at the OMB the City took the right position on heights, parks, and the Northcote alignment but was ignored by the Board.
2007 Report Card
My evaluation is summarized in the report card I drafted when I set up the first version of this web site. (Actually I did two report cards, one on 2007 after the decision and another in 2010, after the parkland and Section 37 issues settled out.) My assessment isn’t that different today. As time has passed I have become more critical of the job done by the City and not as inclined as many to blame everything on the OMB. This is a complicated subject.
Criterion / Grade / Comments
Busy Sidewalks Full of Life
- The massive 1171 building on the south side of Queen will inevitably be too expensive for small retailers.
- The original plan to restrict the size of the stores fell by the wayside as planners agreed to wider store widths.
- The building face barely distinguishes individual units.
- The small scale of Queen from University to Shaw will be broken by new oversized buildings.
- Still, there will be stores where none exist now.
- A functioning theatre looks like it will emerge.
- This isn’t a gain but a continuance of what we have now.
- Planners gave away the right to Northcote extending south of Queen as a street.
- They settled in their earliest discussions with the developer on a tunnel entrance to the pedestrian passage which replaces Northcote south of Queen.
- Pedestrian instead of car is ok but the tunnel entrance is unforgivable.
- Not enough east-west street penetration on the rest of the block.
- The best that can be said is that the planners started with a pattern of odd lots and individual owners.
- But they should have had a better plan in place before the storm broke.
Variety of Uses
- Planners fought hard to preserve the mixed use designation including some mandatory industrial space.
- They get A for effort here.
- The OMB gets F for turning down the City’s arguments.
- The only non-residential uses that are saved are for artists; not bad, but we need more than that.
- Basically we got mostly residential development.
- Which is still better than vacant land.
Variety of Buildings
- A great old building, 48 Abell, is not being recycled.
- In their defense the planners can say they have few powers to protect such buildings.
- The monolithic façade of the Queen Street project is a disaster.
- The planners could have fought harder for an articulated façade—but the OMB would probably have rejected this.
Variety of People
- Getting a large social housing project in the downtown is a triumph—largely due to the developer; the planners did well to facilitate.
- Resident artists in two buildings is also good.
- But not many families are likely.
- Small park space is included—too small.
- Acquisition badly managed—but it’s not the planners’ fault the City is broke.
- Whether the design works for the neighbourhood remains to be seen.
The OMB decisions were appealed by Active 18 and by the City to the Ontario Supreme Court. Technically you first need to get leave to appeal from a single judge before a full panel of the Divisional Court will even hear the appeal argument. The issue on the leave application is, very simply: does the appellant have a chance of winning, so that it is worth all the bother of assembling a panel of three judges to hear the case? This is a hard test. Then the test on the appeal itself is whether the tribunal made a mistake in law or jurisdiction. Error of judgement is not good enough. Indeed our kind of case was a prime example of how and where the courts do not like to interfere with specialized tribunals.
And before the court will even consider an appeal you have to exhaust all remedies—which meant we had to try a Section 43 Appeal under the Planning Act, a kind of an appeal back to a different panel of the OMB itself. The City went through the motions of doing this. We nodded our agreement. A loser.
Anyhow, about a month after the OMB decisions, the City lawyer recommended an appeal. And the new mayor came on board. Then this was approved by Council. It was new Mayor David Miller’s first big motion to Council. GOOD
The City-wide issue was the gutting of the mixed use/industrial land category which struck at any serious efforts for fostering a “creative city” (see [Comments and Rants, Jobs]/planning/comments-and-rants/#jobs-jobs-jobs)) and the excessive density which seemed to totally ignore the provisions of the Official Plan (see Comments and Rants [Built Form]/planning/comments-and-rants/#limits-of-built-form-planning).)
Because the City was slow to make a decision whether to appeal to the court, and to preserve the rights of Active 18 in the appeal as a Party, I filed our notice of appeal before the City did theirs. Technically that meant we would go first in argument as the first named appellant. Everybody understood that it would look better in court if the City went first and carried the can. Better the public authority appeared seriously aggrieved by the OMB decision, rather than mere citizen trouble-makers. We made a deal in writing with the lawyer for the City that we would defer to them in argument as the primary appellants. This meant, more or less, that we were observers, allowed to speak, but had no say in whether the case would be settled and were not liable for cost if the application was lost. And then the City as the Party appealing would go first. All this was good for appearances in court. But the City also explicitly agreed that they would not settle without our agreement.
The leave application proceeded right up to the day of argument for all three cases. On that day, it was announced that argument would be adjourned because there were settlement negotiations. We adjourned. Active 18 was not invited to those negotiations.
When we attended the day of argument for the leave application, the City announced they were seeking an adjournment to negotiate. It was granted. Two days later City Planning and the then Councillor Adam Giambrone called Active 18 in for a meeting and announced that they had settled two of three cases and told us the Section 37 benefits they had gotten. It was a done deal.
The third appeal by the City against Urbancorp at 150 Sudbury proceeded to argument three days later, and leave to appeal was granted! Getting leave shocked the legal world because it doesn’t often happen. See Divisional Court and Settlement
Then, before that full argument in Divisional Court could be argued before a panel of three judges, this part of the case was also settled.
No hiding my criticism that the City should not have caved on the two other cases when it did. It turns out their/our position was strong enough to win the leave and it established a good bargaining position against UrbanCorp. They lost a great bargaining position in the other two cases. The community was the big loser. Major BAD. As a litigator I’ve settled hundreds of cases and agree with the basic wisdom—if you can get something decent in a settlement, don’t risk it all in a trial. In this instance the City got $750,000 from Bohemian in Section 37 benefits to build out the park and a large undertaking to build a share of the new road—the extension of Sudbury from Lisgar to Queen. But from 48 Abell (Verdiroc) the City got a road contribution and an option to buy six units at ground level on the north side of the new building, eventually built out as The Epic. These units front on to the laneway running parallel to Queen Street which has been glamorized as the Mews. Ten years later in 2016 these units passed as a Section 37 benefit to a non-profit art gallery operated by Ben Woolfitt, specializing in non-representational art.
The road was probably never at risk because it had to be built to accommodate the new buildings. But the other benefits were at risk. No settlement, no Section 37 benefit.
Bottom line: the Mews units weren’t worth it. Yes it was a hard argument but why stop at the stage of the leave application. As events transpired, the better bargaining position against Urbancorp proved worth it. A much better deal was made with them. And, far in the future, in 2017, we can now say, yes indeed, those Mews units were not worth it.
And another BIG BAD. The City betrayed Active 18 and its agreement not to settle without our consent. In forty years of civil litigation dealing with hundreds of co-counsels in complex litigation I have never seen it like this.
So in the Rants under [City Hall Maze]/planning/comments-and-rants/#the-city-hall-maze) you see my cautions and comments about the role of City Legal. There is a history!
Divisional Court and Settlement
The written material for the leave application was prepared and filed by the Parties. The three developers all used the same lawyer.
The court argument for leave was postponed twice and eventually scheduled for July 16. When I arrived in court that Monday morning for the argument it was announced that the case would be adjourned for settlement discussions. The City’s lawyer on the Divisional Court case, Tom Wall, told me he knew nothing of this until late the evening before. We learned the details in a meeting between Active 18 and the Planning staff on the Tuesday evening of that week. At the meeting the staff were clear—it was a ‘done deal’. By that point I was not surprised at the settlement behind our backs. It was interesting later that the Councillor’s office said they thought this meeting constituted “consultation” with Active 18.
The City’s promise through Dawn Jubb to actually consult with us before any change of position was ignored. Once the City settled with the two developers and abandoned those appeals, we as mere respondents had no say in whether those two appeals would proceed.
The decision by the City to settle with the two developers, Baywood and 48 Abell, was terrible, in my view. The City got virtually no concessions from them. The City would say they got $500,000 cash in Section 37 benefits from 1171 but that was already in the works. The City agreed to spend that money buying six units (3,600 square feet total) along The Mews in Phase Two of 48 Abell at $250 per square foot. This was absurd. There was no guarantee that the building would ever be built. And the Mews at that point was a planning disaster. It was and is nothing more than a long passage with eight storeys on either side and no Queen Street access except at the ends. Planning staff were themselves distressed about The Mews. Why was the City buying space here?
Councillor Adam Giambrone defended this decision to me at one point on the basis that the City had no chance in the court case and by the settlement had escaped costs against. This was very strange. The lawyers involved had not deviated from their view that the argument was decent. (No argument for leave to appeal is ever very strong.) The legal opinion sent to Council in February that the case should be appealed had not changed. I know about legal costs and the costs here were not that great—there was only one lawyer for the three developers. Costs should be evaluated in terms of possible return. Why bail out at this point? The work was done except for a half day of argument. I respect the point that there is a higher vantage point and responsibility than the local community. Still, this was not only a sellout of the community but a stupid one. The City gave away a respectable chance for much greater bargaining power in exchange for nothing of significance. There has never been an explanation of why.
The settlement correspondence and deal for 1171 Queen was by a Response to an Offer to Settle from the developer (not in writing here) sent by the City, and then an Acceptance by the developer, which has detailed terms, by way of a letter to Community Council. The was dated after the leave application was abandoned by the City and contained the terms negotiated to get that abandonment. Community Council accepted the offer and directed staff to turn it into a formal Section 37 agreement.
The settlement correspondence and deal for 48 Abell followed the same pattern—Response to an Offer to Settle from the developer sent by the City and then an Acceptance by the developer, being a much longer letter with the detailed terms sent by the developer to Community Council.
This escapade follows a trend of last minute settlements by the City after seeming to fight for what the local community wants. The lesson for community groups is that the City should not be trusted in these kinds of situations.
Two days after the settlement was announced we appeared before Justice Lax on the third appeal file regarding Westside Lofts, the one the City did not settle. The argument went well. I left court feeling optimistic.
And indeed Justice Lax granted leave for the full appeal. Reasons This is not the same thing by any means as winning the full appeal. But the way she wrote her reasons made it sound like she was convinced not just that there might be an error worthy of consideration by the full court, but that indeed there was an error. Hurrah! She was strongly critical of the OMB decision for failing to deal explicitly with the mandatory provincial policies. So we finally developed some traction but only with the single developer with whom there had been no settlement. And, as explained below, we settled with that developer in the fall on a reasonable basis. If the City had not caved so ignominiously days before, we might have achieved a better result with them as well.
So by the end of July we had lost altogether against Baywood for 1171 Queen (the Bohemian Embassy) and for 48 Abell and had a chance we might win against Westside Lofts for 150 Sudbury when the full appeal would be argued.
The possibility of that full appeal meant re-writing the Leave Factum for purposes of a proper appeal argument. I dragged my heels on this as the possibility of a settlement with Westside developed over the summer.
The settlement of the Divisional Court case for two of the three projects (48 Abell and 1171 Queen) was announced just before the leave application was to be argued.
A map of the Triangle after the settlement is here.
(See The Appeals). The Section 37 benefits from Baywood included $750,000 to build out the park. Otherwise the developer got everything it had won at the OMB.
Assuming the City would lose in the full appeal argument, it would not get any Section 37 benefits which were only available in an agreed settlement and were not part of the OMB order. So, based on that assumption, the City improved its position by the settlement.
This settlement is more complex to assess. The City accepted the buildings the OMB approved and got as a Section 37 benefit the right to buy at market price six laneway units on the north side of the second building to be built (eventually The Epic).
Was this worth anything? At the time we hoped The Mews would be hot real estate and these units might be studio space for artists. But it was ridiculous to think that artists could ever afford them at market prices. (Ten years later, when the building and the units were finally ready to occupy, Active 18 and the City hunted and hunted for organizations that might want them. We eventually, and in the nick of time, found something good, Ben Woolfitt’s non-profit art gallery.)
The second Section 37 benefit was to give priority to artists from the old 48 Abell and studio space in the new west wing to be operated by St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing Society. (This was eventually delivered but not until after a fight eight years later.)
In dollar terms this Section 37 benefit was mostly useless. The City should have pressed for more, but it was thought that if they did, they might lose the non-profit, affordable housing project that was on the west side of the project. In retrospect, who knows? I think it was a bluff. The real owner, Merv Hollander, was too committed.
150 Sudbury—the Artscape Settlement
The third appeal by the City against Urbancorp at 150 Sudbury proceeded in Divisional Court and the application for a full review was successful. But before the full argument in Divisional Court in front of a panel of three judges could be argued, the case was settled. The Urbancorp settlement by comparison to the other two was much, much better. It turned over 60+ units in the building to Artscape for rental to artists and set up a $1M Section 37 benefit for The Theatre Centre. More on the Artscape settlement below.
During 2006 I had encouraged Artscape to speak with the various developers to see if there might be any possible creative arrangements for Section 37 benefits. Tim Jones, the Artscape boss, tried but nothing came of it. The developers (except Merv Hollander, owner of 48 Abell) just didn’t want artists in their buildings.
In 2007 as the date for the full appeal argument approached, Tim and Alan Saskin, the owners of Westside, came up with a plan to enlarge the Westside building and “give” Artscape 60+ units, (56,000 square feet) at raw construction cost. There was a twist here. Westside had special problems with its site. Since it was more than one hectare, the Official Plan provisions requiring actual parkland dedication (and not just money) came into play, and there was a strong argument that Westside would have to donate a piece of its property to the City. This went beyond the normal requirement of 5% cash for parks required of all developments. There was an argument whether the City could enforce this because the claim was not announced until very late in the process. There was a fight about which piece of the property would be transferred. There was also a fight over whether the density to be allowed to Westside would be reduced. It was a mess. The deal allowed Westside to get out of the extra parkland contribution in exchange for the Artscape units. We lost a little bit of parkland in the deal but gained a good chunk of artist housing. Westside got a taller building. Westside also gave $1M dollars to the Carnegie library project, as noted below.
Active 18 signed on with Saskin and Tim Jones to make this proposal to the City. The City seemed reluctant to accept it, although who knows what internal strategies were at play here. As these negotiations progressed, with Active 18 watching from the sidelines, the deadline for filing the argument for the full appeal approached.
Now Active 18 turned into bosom buddies with the developer, Alan Saskin, a charming fellow. Who wouldn’t even meet with us a year earlier. Too bad it took him a year to decide to talk to us. But better late than never. Eventually Planning and the Councillor agreed to the Artscape deal. From our point of view we were getting a guarantee that there would be a stable group of artists continuing in the neighbourhood to replace the expected loss of the artists in 48 Abell, which was slated for demolition. Yes, the Artscape residences would be more expensive than the 48 Abell rentals. But we’d lost the fight to stop the demolition of 48 Abell and this was second prize.
We wrote a carefully worded letter of support.
Did I hear someone accuse me of “let’s make a deal” development strategies? At that point I—we—were as guilty as sin.
On October 30, 2007 there was a Press Conference to announce the overall settlement.
You can check out the press and public reaction in the press history.
But that “rental deal” had to be revised when Artscape and Urbancorp said it didn’t work, financially. What that meant and the degree of scrutiny the claim got I don’t know, because we were not in on this. But after some negotiation between Urbancorp, Artscape, and the City, the deal was rewritten. The rewrite allowed Artscape to sell some of the units it was going to rent. (The normal Artscape building was a rental building. This was the first time they were allowed to sell units as condos.) They were to be sold to people in the arts community who qualified as artists, as defined by Artscape. In a twisted way Artscape became a “developer”. Active 18 didn’t care. We were getting the continued presence of “artistic-types” [I can’t believe I just used that expression. I deeply apologize.]. Let’s say the character of the neighbourhood continued to a useful degree.
The OMB decision forced the City to purchase parkland. You don’t see this in the Reasons but it happened. It wasn’t the park Active 18 originally wanted but it was substantial space and a substantial accomplishment. The City fought providing a park for all these new residents. Read it and weep. This win was a major GOOD. The story of the new park has legs of its own and is told in some detail below.
The Section 37 benefits wrung out of this mess were complex but in the end result very successful for the community. Two GOODS. One for us and a second GOOD is for City staff. While they fought the Park, on the other hand they did work hard at the complex Section 37 deals. It was unusual and difficult and we ended up with a good result in the circumstances. We got a renovated theatre in a historic building (The Theatre Centre), substantial funding to build out the park, new accommodation for the local office of Toronto Public Health, and substantial housing for artists under the aegis of Artscape. This success made Section 37 high profile and controversial. And since that time, City staff have been open to these kinds of culture deals. The Section 37 story gets its own chapter [below]/planning/comments-and-rants/#section-3716).
One of the root problems in the Triangle fight was the fact that a detailed Secondary Plan was not in place for the area before the development wave hit. Looking back on the OMB decision in the Triangle case and the reaction to it, I am troubled how much the blame is directed at the OMB and how little it is directed to the City and particularly the Planning Division, who did not have a Secondary Plan in place. The Director of Planning at the time, Gary Wright, admitted in 2007 that they had “dropped the ball” in West Queen West. This is, I believe, what he meant. See Reference—Press
The land south of Queen was designated as Regeneration in the Official Plan. This meant the land could be developed for any purpose, but before this could happen there had to be a Secondary Plan. (See Official Plan Section 4.7.) This open-ended Regeneration category made some sense in that the land was mostly abandoned industrial sites, like much of the land in the west end close to the railway tracks. In defence of the Planning Division, the development wave hit very quickly in 2006 and before they could get organized, there were three development applications on their desk. That’s generous. They weren’t even trying to get organized. The Regeneration definition required, among other things, that a Heritage strategy be articulated to make sure that new buildings were compatible with adjacent heritage buildings.
Nothing is simple in the planning business, as the next few paragraphs will show. There was an additional applicable Secondary Plan, called the Garrison Creek Secondary Plan. Dig down till you find the section that applies to the WQW Triangle (p. 6-7). This variant required an Area Study before development. Don’t get stuck on the difference at this stage, since by the time we were at the OMB, neither Secondary Plan nor Area Study had ever been done.
Developers have the right to have their applications considered based on the in-force zoning and plans. The Official Plan provided that a Secondary Plan was mandatory before development in a Regeneration Area could proceed, but the OMB refused at the beginning of the hearing to adjourn to allow this process to be completed, even though the Official Plan said a plan was mandatory. The OMB was wrong in this. Which doesn’t excuse the City for allowing the problem to develop. The City stumbled through the OMB hearing trying to create on the fly an Area Plan for the three proposals concurrently before the OMB.
Before the case got to the OMB in the fall of 2006—but after the development applications were filed—there were numerous community meetings (see Working Groups. A proper Secondary Plan for the WQW Triangle was the subject of much discussion. (See May 2, 2007—[K.D. 21].)
Finally, after the OMB decision and as the appeal was in progress, at the June 13 2007 meeting of Community Council, Planning Staff presented a Report and a Secondary Plan for the Triangle. Active 18 presented our own ersion of what the Secondary Plan should say. Councillor Giambrone refused to back the community’s amendments over the Planning Division.
The Staff Report dated June 11, 2007 attached a draft and also detailed wording of re-zoning. Community Council, June 26, 2007, TE 7.8.
The local Councillor declined to move any of the changes we had suggested and the Staff Report was passed.
Full Council passed the amendments as forwarded by Community Council at its meeting on July 26, 2007. Passage was subject to the standard direction to staff to tidy the wording. But the matter never was brought back for third reading. (“Third reading” is the formality of adopting whatever by-law in the tidied language.) And if you look for this Secondary Plan as part of the Official Plan (Amendment #29) it’s not there.
It might be said this doesn’t matter because the Triangle was already built over, or subject to applications, so the zoning and Plan amendments were irrelevant. Wrong. Ten years later in dealing with an application for 1181 Queen the matter has come up again. And Planning staff are ignoring the amendment passed by Council as if it never existed.
The amendment, and the opinion and advice of Planning staff, provided that the back corner of the triangular 1181 site should have a height limit of 16 storeys, which meant a continuation of the townhouses on the north side of Sudbury. Very sensible. Ten years later a developer argues they can build more than 16 storeys because it is “Regeneration”.
For some more about the virtues of a Secondary Plan go [here]/planning/comments-and-rants/#secondary-plans). Basically, a Secondary Plan is an area-specific amendment or addition to the Official Plan. As such, any changes to zoning are supposed to comply unless the Official or Secondary Plan is amended at the same time. While that is possible, and happens often, it is much harder to stickhandle through the OMB if there is a current and up-to-date Secondary Plan.
Reading the reasons of the OMB decision by Mr. Granger, you would not realize that there was:
- a fierce argument that the case should not proceed until a study or Secondary Plan was passed. He rejected this argument. I think this was wrong. The language is “mandatory”.
- but the City looked pretty silly making up an Area Plan on the fly before the Board.
- the section of the reasons dealing with the amount of non-residential uses to be required is, without saying so, trying to address the requirement of something like that in the Garrison Creek Plan.
- He rejected the City’s “on-the-fly” proposal as too vague and made no significant requirement of non-residential uses. This, in my opinion was wrong.
- without saying that it was required by Garrison Creek he did force the City to provide park land.
If you read this Blog in chronological order, you will learn that I am continually critical of the Planning Division for failing to crank out Secondary Plans ahead of development. And this again became a major issue when development moved north of Queen.
2010 Report Card
I wrote the 2007 Report Card at the beginning of that year, just after the three-month OMB case was concluded. It was me imagining, then, how Jane Jacobs would view the result. See History—1 and [Jane Jacobs Rant]/planning/comments-and-rants/#jane-jane-jane). Seemed like a good exercise, so I updated it. So here is…the 2010 Report Card. Me, pretending to be Jane…again! It’s not a good fit. It’s hard to imagine Jane criticizing a planning department for not doing enough!
Planning Division: F- OMB: F- The portion of the Triangle area that was the subject of the OMB fight is now five-sixths built. (There are still six major building to go in the larger Triangle area!) The inner triangle is, as predicted, badly overbuilt, a planning disaster by any standards. The problem isn’t that the buildings are too tall—the tall ones are set back from Queen Street. The problem is there are too many of them. The “court space” in the middle of the mess looks awful. We knew this would be the result three years ago and pleaded with the OMB to stop it. And to be fair to the City, they fought this at the OMB. No ifs ands or buts, the OMB should have stopped this, even if it can be said the City blew it on the preparation. The City Planning Division’s failure to have a plan in place before the development proposals were filed is also inexcusable. What is even more shocking is that three years later the Planning Division was still refusing to expedite a Secondary Plan for the area northeast of the railway tracks and west of Gladstone where there a serious risk the disaster will repeat itself. Maps and Photos to illustrate this: See History 3, [Secondary Plan Rant]/planning/comments-and-rants/#secondary-plans).
Planning Division: C OMB: D The Planning Division was making up an employment policy to try and guarantee jobs in the new developments. That good. But making it up as the OMB case was being argued: bad. The OMB’s failure here was worse. Provincial policies mandate job creation as a priority. The OMB brushed this unprofitable idea aside despite the clear evidence Toronto was well on target for new residential construction and not even close on jobs. The best that can be said for the OMB and the developers’ position is that the City-proposed policies were not in place when the developers made their applications. But the provincial policies were. And the applicable Regeneration designation in the Official Plan said there should be no development without a plan that “creates new jobs”. See Official Plan, Ch. 4.4.7 We got a nod toward work space out of the Artscape deal that put some live-work in 150 Sudbury, but not from the OMB and only after pushing the City. See History 1, Jobs Rant.
Planning Division: G- We did get some live-work space eventually in the Artscape deal with Urbancorp, the developer in the 150 Sudbury building. In fact we got more units of artist accommodation there than we are losing when 48 Abell comes down. These are not large studio spaces, but way better than nothing. We got employment space by legal manoeuvring after the planning process failed completely. The City appealed the OMB decision to the court, then bailed on the appeal at the courtroom door with two of three developers and got nothing for their settlement. I note that settlement was in explicit violation of our Active 18 agreement with the City that the City would not settle behind our backs. Which they did. The next day we (meaning the lawyers for the City—who were not part of the deal making—and A18 lawyers, namely me) persuaded the court to review the OMB decision. Which set the stage for the much better settlement with Urbancorp involving Artscape. The Planning Division was the enemy all the way, settling the two winning cases, needlessly, for no benefit. And after that, they resisted the favorable settlement of the Urbancorp appeal which involved Artscape taking over a chunk of the building for artist live-work units, a settlement that addressed the employment issues discussed above. Bravo for Artscape and Urbancorp. See
Planning Division: C OMB: B We finally got a park in the middle of the mess by not letting the City and the OMB shut the case down without a firm commitment to buy the land. Here the OMB was on side. While it is not finished yet, I am optimistic it will turn out OK when it is fully built. It is not big enough for the number of people it needs to serve, but never mind. Why will it be good? Because we muscled local citizens into to the process, thanks to two councillors. The Parks Division initially fought this but finally came around. We got a deal for the conversion of the Carnegie library to a theatre. I’m not sure there is enough money to pay for the retrofit, but things are cooking. We got a network of public access open space between the buildings at the OMB to supplement the park. This is common enough downtown but not in residential areas. Here again we had to fight City Hall, not at the OMB, where they were supportive of our insistence that this be entrenched but afterwards, when no Division wanted to take ownership and develop this. It should be well integrated into the park. It’s not the developers who fight this, it’s the City. I am pessimistic on this topic. We’ll see. I often hear people say that amenities and the Artscape deal show how well we did. This is rubbish. The amenities do not compensate for the overbuilding. Younger folk have no memory of the activist City Council of the 70s and early 80s who fought the development industry—on different kinds of issues—and did much, much better than us. See [Section 37 Rant]/planning/comments-and-rants/#section-3716).
City Hall: B+ We failed to save 48 Abell by having it declared a heritage building. I admit fitting it into the official definition was a stretch. The developer, understandably, but also the construction unions fought hard against this. The Councillor and City staff were on side. “Tear it down, build condos”, said the construction unions, who emerged as the enemies of good planning. Then the owner did nothing by way of demolition and construction and sold the property to another developer, who is also sitting on the property. The City might have been able to save the building if it had demolition control.
Planning Division: F The public space between the two towers, where an extension of Northcote Avenue should be, is still terrible. It should be a street. Allowing the developer to build a wall along Queen Street with a tunnel entrance to the “Northcote extension” is a second disastrous consequence of this original deal with the developer. The Planning Division gave away the store on this by an implicit agreement with the developer before there was any public discussion. The reason they did it, originally, was that it was the only development in sight on a desolate stretch of Queen Street. Then, whammo, there were eight more and the decision was a disaster. The original sin? Not having a plan in place for the Triangle area.
Queen Street Retail
Planning Division: F OMB: D The Planning Division talked the talk about small stores on Queen in the new buildings, then, without telling us, changed this in the wording of the site plan by-law in the final hearing. And the OMB let them.
Planning and Urban Design Divisions: B When Baywood bought four more properties in the Triangle toward the end of 2007 and hired the same architect to design them all, the City did try to persuade them it was a bad idea. But the City did not impose design controls here.
The City and Baywood set up a private design review of the Baywood “collection” of buildings along Queen. We crashed the meeting. The criticism of the Baywood proposals from the high class architects was pathetic. Don’t ever try to sell me on “peer review” by local architects of local architects!
See [Design Rant]/planning/comments-and-rants/#architecture-and-design)
Planning Division: D On almost every front I am dissatisfied with what the Planning Division did, didn’t do and won’t do. With the one exception that the staff who were assigned to actually attend the OMB hearing and argue for the City worked their buns off. At the end of the OMB case I was excusing the Planning Division because they were understaffed. I wrote to the mayor complaining about this. But no longer. I think the planners in the Division are deliberately hollowing out the Plan because they don’t want to plan. There is a pretense of “planning” in Toronto, dozens of meaningless meetings and then a hundred excuses, everything except the truth—the Planning Division is a twitching corpse.
Is this an opportunity for community groups to push them aside and do it ourselves? Planning is not rocket science. But how much time in the day is there? See [Planners]/planning/comments-and-rants/#planners).
solid— title: Early Community Consultation weight: 40
tags: [West Queen West, OMB]
2006 Community Consultation
The City hosted a preview meeting for the public of the 1171 proposal in August 2005. The earliest formation of Active 18 as an organization was in response to this.
The City Planning Division had by this point met several times with the development team for 1171. These early meetings proved to be critical and fatal, from our point of view, to the key issues. In these early closed-door meetings there was a meeting of the minds on the key issue of conveying the Northcote right-of-way south of Queen to the developer. This precluded a proper grid street layout for the Triangle. And the over-sized building fronting on Queen was a done deal.
Then in November 2005 the City hosted a large community meeting to discuss all three of the proposals which were before City Council. This is a Planning Act and Official Plan requirement when a proposal for an Official Plan amendment comes before City Council. The requirement of public meetings is set out in the Planning Act .
The meeting at the Mary McCormack Community Recreation Centre was attended by several hundred. All the proposed developments were well displayed around the room. The City Planning Division described its initial reaction. There were no other presentations and no articulated critique.
Each citizen was then assigned a table with perhaps ten others, and asked to comment. Then each table presented to the larger meeting its contribution to the planning problems before us. My low opinion of this type of public consultation is ████████.
Such meetings are what pass for public consultation in the planning biz. Whether there is any real input from the public by this means was a central issue for me. (See [Process]/planning/comments-and-rants/#process-process-process) ) A core problem from my point of view is, how could the Planning Division have ignored the strong public sentiment at this meeting that the height and character of Queen Street at five storeys, max, be maintained? Planning subsequently went to the OMB agreeing to eight storeys and abandoning a public street running south through the 1171 site.
What was really wrong with this November meeting, and many others like it that I have attended, was the failure of the planners to lay their cards on the table with the public.
Active 18’s next meeting, not surprisingly, was very well attended with many newly motivated folks, like me, who ‘signed up’. I made it my first project for the group to put it on a solid formal footing with a written constitution and then incorporation and a structure for formal accountability sessions with the community. I believed the problems coming at us were too big and complex to run ad hoc.
Following the community consultation meeting, the City embarked on a more detailed area study to produce a revised Secondary Plan as required by the provisions in the existing Garrison Creek Secondary Plan, which applied to the south half of the territory in question. This study, which continued over the period of the working group meetings described below, was finally presented to Community Council at the end of May 2006. It became the City’s position in the hearing at the Ontario Municipal Board which starting in September 2006. But the actual revised Secondary Plan for the whole Triangle was not presented until after the OMB hearing, in 2007.