OMB grey zone
Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen's plan to reform the hated Ontario Municipal Board is playing to mostly good reviews, but there are still enough loopholes in the proposal to drive some ugly developments through.
While Gerretsen says the proposed reforms unveiled Monday (December 12) will "provide clearer rules" for planning, the changes don't include money for groups seeking intervenor status at OMB hearings.
In an interview with NOW, ministry spokesperson Ken Petersen chose to emphasize instead a public liaison established at the board, "which will make it easier for citizens to be involved."
Councillor Karen Stintz (Eglinton-Lawrence) worries that the board won't look at appeals based on their planning merits. "The OMB can only refer matters back if city council didn't follow proper procedure," she says. There is also no mention in the reform package of how the board will appoint members, a process that has been criticized for its development-friendly bias in the past.
Enviro groups aren't so pleased either, noting that the changes may actually encourage sprawl, since, presumably, the OMB will no longer have the same powers to keep subdivision-happy towns in check.
How are developers taking the news? Neil Rodgers, president of the Urban Development Institute, says completed applications may require studies that could be "frivolous in nature for the purposes of delay. Do we reject doing a sun-shadow study while looking at intensification of the city? Sounds pretty reasonable to me."
NDP Municipal Affairs critic Michael Prue says, "The OMB has outlived its usefulness. Toronto has the clout to make these decisions."
As condos continue to rise around the Gardiner and it looks like the city will never have the $3 billion needed to tear the concrete monster down, attention is turning to other ways to connect the core to the waterfront - including a covered walkway from Union Station to Queens Quay.
Details of the York Quay Neighbourhood Association (YQNA) plan are being kept under wraps, but the group has pitched the idea to a couple of residents groups, including Waterfront Action, which thinks it's "a one-chance opportunity before other structures go up and it's impossible to do," says chair Dennis Findlay.
According to the YQNA, tearing the Gardiner down is not technically feasible because the area from Front to Lakeshore is all unstable infill.
The city is currently undertaking a study of Union Station. But Councillor Kyle Rae (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) says access to the waterfront already exists. "From Union you can get down to the lakeshore through the ACC. But I don't have a problem incorporating something down Bay."
Councillor Pam McConnell (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) would like the Gardiner to be torn down, because it's a "barrier" to the waterfront. But Councillor Sylvia Watson (Parkdale-High Park) says that while that would be nice, the more realistic option is to keep people connected to the waterfront by routes like the proposed walkway.
"It's an imaginative way to make people feel connected," she says.