Friday, June 29, 2007

Interesting article on the City's farcical handling of urban planning

Philip Preville's blog post pointed me to his article in Toronto Life which is in part a brief history of the recent contentious development/gentrification on West Queen West/Queen West West - including a mention of the Zeidlers which reminded me of having recently watched "Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel". The blog post expands on the article, including that the most recent City Planning and Growth Management Committee was inquorate with only three members showing up for a presentation by a visiting British guest speaker.

I recommend Preville's pieces to those who are following the Miller regime's stewardship of development in Toronto. Some of the information would have been familiar to those who follow Christopher Hume's columns but this piece brought together a number of interesting strands.

Preville notes that the last time a Chief Planner went before the board, Paul Bedford spent a week successfully stopping a waterfront Home Depot. That was nine years ago. Just such a fight may be imminent with the proposal for a SmartCentre - likely to include a WalMart - on Eastern Avenue. The bad news for Leslieville residents is that John Barber has taken up their cause - I wouldn't like to bet on his strike rate not least because of the attitude he takes to OMB in his piece in contrast to Preville's.

Among other tidbits it mentions that the City is routinely breaking the law in respect of planning applications (failure to respond to an application in six months is grounds for an OMB absent any other reason - the City has declared itself unable to respond in less than nine). It tells us that the City Planner was offered extra staff by Councillor Kyle Rae but Tyndorf bottled it when asked to defend the need at Budget time. It also makes clear the pivotal role Councillors have in ensuring the City does not get hosed by developers and the consequences when inexperience and delegation means this role isn't fulfilled. Even when the City appeals to OMB their arguments are unorganised and cannot be heeded even before a sympathetic board member.

Retired Planner Bedford also recommends the revival of the City Planning Board, which would be a separate commission and employ planning staff directly - something he has called for in other interviews. However, its previous composition of councillors and citizens is unlikely to be repeated, since Toronto councillors are unwilling to release the levers of power as seen with the abolition of citizen TTC commissioners and the City's refusal to make their citizen-only appointments to the Port Authority.
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