Tell It Like It Is

Tell It Like It Is If an election to select the people who decide the future development of our community was held tomorrow, they'd all be turfed from office. Problem is, they're not elected. Contrary to popular belief, it's not City Council which has this power but rather the non-elected, faceless, development-friendly folks known as the Ontario Land Tribunal, to whom the Province bestows final authority over all land use decisions. These people are unreachable and untouchable - except by the Ontario government that put them there, and I expect that over the next year this body will approve many developments much larger than your city government wants and much larger than the community can absorb. It may take a while to notice the difference but by the time you do, the problems will take decades to fix. Problems like schools being so crowded that kids will need to be bused far outside their neighbourhoods, child care centres with such long waiting lists that it'll be hard for parents to find a spot, subways that are overcrowded again just after we spend billions increasing capacity. Some would say that these are problems we already have, and to some extent that is true. But nothing like the extent to which we are going to have them. The large buildings you see along Yonge Street now were all built in accordance with the North York Secondary Plan, a forward-thinking roadmap created by Willowdale community leaders working with then-Mayor Mel Lastman. For decades, few tried to get around these plans and, on issues such as exceeding densities around which Willowdale was planned, none were successful. The major turning point came two years ago when the current Provincial government undid the policy which, in effect, gave the City the ability to reject development which didn't follow its Official Plan – a set of planning rules designed to encourage intensification such as we've seen in Willowdale, but to rein in excessive development which went beyond our ability to maintain livable communities. In short, it reinstated the Ontario Municipal Board, which the previous government had belatedly done away with, and renamed it the Ontario Land Tribunal. It has proven to be the OMB on steroids. Last month, the Land Tribunal approved a massive development near the northeast corner of Yonge and Cummer, with buildings denser than those above the junction of two subway lines at Yonge and Sheppard. The Official Plan Amendment requested by the applicant (Ghods) contained properties he didn't own, including at least one owned and lived in by long-time residents who didn't want to be part of any redevelopment. There were several other troubling components of the decision – the developers' preferred location for parkland, for example, which the appeal body didn't have jurisdiction over but approved anyway. Perhaps the biggest kick in the head is that the decision was based largely on proximity to a Cummer subway station, despite City evidence that the station might not be going ahead and an announcement from another provincial body, before the decision was rendered, that the Cummer station had indeed, in effect, been cancelled. Here are just some of the other obnoxiously-oversized development proposals currently beating a path towards the Ontario Land Tribunal (formerly the Ontario Municipal Board):

  • At Yonge and Parkview – a 42-story tower at more than twice the density allowed by the Official Plan.

  • At Yonge and Hillcrest – another 42-storey tower more than double the allowable density.

  • At Avondale/Glendora just east of Yonge – another proposal at more than double the allowable density

  • At 2-12 Oakburn – two highrise towers, much larger than what what was previously approved for the site, creating major impacts on adjacent homes on Avondale, in the neighbourhood

  • At Finch and Grantbrook – on a site which has been flipped several times recently, with each owner asking for higher densities, a proposal which threatens to seriously undermine the Finch Secondary Plan.

The applicants for all of these proposals know that City Council is very unlikely to approve them. They don't care. They're betting big bucks that the Ontario Land Tribunal will. The Government's spin doctors try to pretend that allowing developers to stomp all over the rules makes housing more affordable. It doesn't. The elimination of rules creates rampant land speculation and property flipping, which artificially drives up the price of housing. To those who want to pretend that any of this isn't about helping developers, or that it is somehow good for us, I refer you to the words of the great Aaron Neville. -John