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FORUM: Waiting on a second-wave plan from Mr. Ford (Oct. 2020)

November 2nd, 2020 · No Comments

Development proposals sneak through during crisis

By Jessica Bell

The cooler weather has arrived, but there is no respite from the coronavirus. The second wave has begun. The spread of the new coronavirus, the need for affordable housing and concerns about development along with developer and affordable housing pressures, are the key issues I’m hearing about this season.

Cases of COVID-19 are rising fast largely in response to the Ford government’s decision to move to Stage 3 and ease restrictions in July. The case counts are increasing at the same time as schools reopen, flu season begins, and businesses are just starting to recover from the spring shutdown. The timing couldn’t be worse.

It is vital the government release an effective second-wave plan that includes tighter restrictions as directed by public health, an increase in the capacity and number of testing sites so sick people don’t have to wait four hours to get a test like they do at Toronto Western Hospital, an investment in schools which includes the  hiring of more teachers to reduce class sizes, and the implementation of paid sick leave so people can stay at home and not expose others. We got a taste of normal life in August. Let’s all do our part, and that includes the government, so we can eventually live normal lives again.

The pandemic has turned the ongoing tension between neighbourhood interests and big development into a massive migraine. Premier Ford has used the pandemic to justify his decision to override Toronto’s noise rules, which means residents from 666 Spadina Avenue to Yorkville to Robert Street can be exposed to construction noise, including non-essential construction, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. I fully support the move to support essential construction, such as testing sites for the coronavirus, but residents deserve more peace and quiet from non-essential construction than what they are currently getting.

The development proposal to build a 13-storey condo at Bathurst and College to displace the beloved Sneaky Dee’s bar has highlighted once again how our laws favour developers over community needs for affordable housing, good schools, and great venues for music, art, and small business. We can’t just grow, we need to grow well.

As your representative to Queen’s Park, I am advocating for laws that will give the city and the people of University-Rosedale more say over what developers can build, and what they should give back to the community in return. For a start, Toronto should be exempt from the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal, which allows developers to hold up and contest planning decisions made by a democratically elected council. Both the city and the province should require developers to give back more to the community in the form of community benefits agreements, affordable housing, and higher fees to fairly contribute to the amenities residents need, including parks, schools, and transit.

Sneaky Dee’s is one of many cultural institutions facing closure. Many music, theatre, and dance venues, from Lee’s Palace to The Free Times Cafe, are struggling to survive in the face of pandemic restrictions, shrinking revenue, rising rent costs and development pressure. These venues entertain us, challenge us, and tell our stories. They need our help. I encourage you to contact our office and suggest ways to help our creative sector. 

Finally, one silver lining has emerged around the gloomy cloud of being a renter during the pandemic in the most expensive city in Canada: three years after the motion was approved, the City of Toronto has finally begun enforcing its new short-term rentals rules. This motion restricts short-term rentals to one’s primary residence. We expect this move will return many units to the long-term rental market, and provide relief to condo dwellers who want to replace the overnight partygoers with long-term neighbours. Starting this September, short-term rental hosts are now required to register with the City of Toronto. Please contact 311 if you want to initiate a complaint against an illegal AirBnB listing. 

These improvements to our housing market happened because we fought for them. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is that change can happen very quickly; we just need to steer that change in the right direction.

Please contact my office if you have questions or concerns. Make sure to stay safe by social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing when required.

Jessica Bell is the MPP for University-Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion