“We are not against development. We understand the need for more housing in Toronto,” says Geri Berholz, co-chair of the Republic Residents’ Association and an organizing member of the Northeast Quadrant Alliance. These Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood groups are urging the Provincial Government to approve the Midtown in Focus plan. Ms Berholz continues, “But the few blocks that comprise our midtown community can no longer bear the disproportionate burden of housing that the city needs.”
The Midtown in Focus plan, unanimously passed by Toronto City Council in 2018, has been languishing, ignored, on Minister Steve Clark’s desk for six months. With the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood bursting at the seams, not only with massive, numerous towers, but also with the Metrolinx LRT, the community has reached a breaking point.
Eight years in the making, the Midtown in Focus plan would only affect future development and none of the towers currently being built or those that have already been approved. If the Provincial Government does not approve the plan by June 6, it may be allowed to die.
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“So many of us neighbours thought so long and hard about this careful plan,” says Thomas Cohen, Chair of the Eglinton Park Residents’ Association, referring to the dozens of community consultations that were conducted by city planners, and the numerous presentations made by constituents to city planners and councillors – all happening while condos continued to be built at an unprecedented pace and scale. Mr. Cohen continues, “The plan offered us a way to buffer, shape, and channel the massive development that is transforming North Toronto. If we lose the plan, we lose both the thoughtful vision of a better neighbourhood and the capacity to react as citizens to all the challenges it faces. If the Province fails to ratify the plan, we are pretty well right back where we started, eight years ago, forced to battle each proposal, weakly armed.”
Andy Gort, President of the South Eglinton Ratepayers’ & Residents’ Association, gives a short history lesson, “Back in 2006, the province designated the Midtown Yonge-Eglinton area as an ‘Urban Growth Centre’ and the party started for the developers, aided by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Now it’s time to tell the developers and the province they have overstayed their welcome and to party somewhere else.” Mr. Gort worries about the many problems of overbuilding including the lack of school capacity, demonstrated by the signs from the Toronto District School Board on new condos saying there is no space at local schools for children moving in. He is further troubled by the overwhelming stress on neighbourhood infrastructure such as the sewage system, overcrowded and unreliable transit, lack of daycare, recreation facilities, public green spaces and even vanishing office space.
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Overriding the whole situation is the Provincial Government’s reinstatement of the much-hated OMB (abolished by the previous government) where affluent developers could appeal decisions made by city planners and thwart neighbourhood concerns. A further change proposed by the Province would reduce and pool any benefits that developers are currently required to provide to the communities they are building in, such as funds or space allocations for daycares, public green spaces, infrastructure, transit lines and water and sewer mainlines.
City councillors are scrambling to fight this bill (#108) by urging residents to make their voices heard. Councillor Mike Colle is holding a town hall meeting to inform residents about what is at stake. His call to action warns:
The Return of the OMB
If passed by the Province of Ontario, Bill 108 will:
- Bring back the planning powers of the OMB over local development
- Include a ‘pay to slay’ provision that would allow developers to eliminate endangered species if they pay a fee
- Dramatically weaken heritage protection
- Reduce development charges and community benefits for developers
The City of Toronto has been given fewer than 30 days to respond to these changes further demonstrating the province’s continuing efforts to diminish the City’s authority over its own functioning.
Ms. Berholz puts it this way, “If Midtown in Focus is allowed to die, it would set a precedent for the entire city, not just for the midtown community. Thoughtful and reasonable city planning would be easily overturned by a Provincial Government bent on micro-managing the nation’s largest city.”
The area’s residents’ associations are urging community members to contact the following provincial government politicians and urge them to approve the Midtown in Focus plan:
Robin Martin: MPP Eglinton-Lawrence
2882 Dufferin St.
Toronto, ON M6B 3S6
Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing,
777 Bay Street, Floor 71,
Toronto, ON, M5G 2E5
Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario,
Office: 416-325-1941 Personal: 416-805-2156
– Miria Ioannou
Photos by Schuster Gindin
See CBC coverage of this issue here.
This article can be found in The Big Issues in the section A Thousand Cranes.
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