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NEWS (NOVEMBER 2016): OMB opened

November 18th, 2016 · No Comments

Residents glimpse settlement offer

By Brian Burchell

In an effort to bring transparency to the Ontario Municipal Board’s (OMB) mediation process, Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) took the unusual step of bringing a developer’s confidential settlement offer to the community for comment before that offer is voted on by Toronto City Council.

“You have an undemocratic and unelected OMB making decisions…. In addition [to that], these decisions [are] made behind closed doors, then [subject to] an in camera debate at city council, without any say from the community,” said Cressy of his decision to call the October community consultation meeting.

“Right now, we have the same amount of development proposed in Ward 20, little old Ward 20, [as in] all of Etobicoke and Scarborough combined”—Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina)

The offer relates to a highly controversial application to raise two towers of 15 and 29 storeys respectively at 328 (328, 332, 344, & 358) Dupont St. The application dates from 2010, when it was initially made by the Wynn Group of Companies, which is building a private student residence at 484 Spadina Ave., home to the Waverley Hotel and Silver Dollar Room. Council rejected the application in 2011, and the developer appealed it to the OMB, where it has been under mediation ever since. At some point in the project’s evolution, the development’s ownership was transferred from the Wynn Group to Freed Developments.

Under the without prejudice offer, the developer has agreed to reduce the height of the towers to 9 and 13 storeys, with setbacks from the Dupont rail line to be determined by a safety audit. The lower tower conforms to the maximum height allowed under the terms of the Dupont Street Study, which council approved in 2014 and which governs development between Kendal and Ossington avenues.

In describing the offer, Cressy characterized negotiating at the OMB as a game of high stakes poker.

“Do you risk it all and get a really tall poorly designed building or do you find a compromise? In this case the unique challenges include the transition to the neighbourhood, and the setback from the rail corridor.”

The councillor said that he believes the heights have been reduced as much as possible, because there is no guidance for development east of Kendal Avenue and because of the proximity to a subway line. Should council decide against the settlement, it is believed the developer will pursue its original application at an OMB hearing.

“On heights alone the [OMB] will accept 9 and 13 storeys, but on the issue of the rail setback I just don’t know,” admitted Cressy at the meeting.

David Harrison, chair of the Annex Residents’ Association (which, along with the city and developer, was one of the parties to the mediation), said he supports the settlement offer, cautioning that the rail safety component has yet to be settled.

A study to determine a safe distance between the Canadian Pacific Rail (CPR) tracks that line Dupont Street and any new developments is currently underway. The Dupont Study originally set that distance at 30 metres, but it was subsequently reduced to 20. The importance of this safety setback was brought into sharp relief in August when two CPR freight trains collided in August, causing a derailment at Dupont Street and Howland Avenue, just west of the site of the proposed development.

“I am limited as to how much I can say, but let’s just say that rail safety is a big issue,” said Harrison, adding that if city council does not approve the settlement and the project goes to a full hearing, the result could impact up to seven previously negotiated settlements for other projects on Dupont Street. Should the OMB rule in favour of the developer in a full hearing, it would potentially nullify those settlements or at least open the door for further negotiations.

“Right now, we have the same amount of development proposed in Ward 20, little old Ward 20, [as in] all of Etobicoke and Scarborough combined,” said Cressy. “Given that [the OMB] operates in secret and the Ontario government has thus far been unwilling to change or abolish it, I am going to do everything in my power to make sure local residents have a say.”

“I wholeheartedly support [Cressy’s] efforts to open the process and let the local residents see what’s in store for them,” said Jennifer Hunter, chair of the Seaton Village Residents’ Association, arguing that city council should vote to approve the settlement offer.

“Normally you can’t talk about these things publicly,” added Harrison, “but [Cressy] persuaded the developer to go along with this, and it’s in the developer’s interest to make it look like [it] cares what the community thinks.”

Toronto City Council voted to accept the staff’s recommendation not to accept the settlement offer just as this issue was going to press.

—with files from Noelle Defour

CORRECTIONNovember 21, 2016
In the original version of this article posted on November 18, 2016, we stated that Toronto City Council had voted to endorse the settlement offer. This was incorrect. City council had in fact voted to accept staff recommendations, which was not to accept the settlement offer. The error was as a result of a miscommunication with the councillor’s office, and that minutes of the in camera council meeting were not made public until after we had gone to press.

 

READ MORE:

NEWS: Trains in the night (September 2016)

ON THE COVER: Dupont Derailment (August 2016)

NEWS: Height, density still top concerns (July 2016)

EDITORIAL CARTOON: Planning! (July 2016)

CHATTER: Annex Residents’ Association app tracks developments (April 2016)

DEVELOPINGS: Annual review reflects tension between community activism and OMB (March 2016)

NEWS: Preserving a sense of community (March 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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