The liberals may be priming to defang the developer-infatuated Ontario Municipal Board, but not fast enough, it seems, for Parkdale residents hoping to head off an unpopular King West condo plan. In the first showdown between the city and the hated OMB since the Libs swept to power, the board began hearings Monday, December 1, on a proposal by Urbancorp for one 19-storey and two 13-storey towers and a number of townhouses just east of Dufferin.
"The evidence against this development is very strong," newly elected Ward 14 councillor Sylvia Watson told a meeting of residents last week at the Parkdale Library, where a city lawyer enumerated a raft of objections raised by city planners.
Among these are the towers' heights, which are up to three times the limit allowed under the current bylaws; the lack of a decent park area (the developer is proposing only a very narrow strip along the rail tracks); and the segregation of the area from the rest of Parkdale.
The latter problem is a consequence of Urbancorp's design, which shows only two main-street access points on this triangle of land bounded to the west by residential co-op buildings on Dufferin, to the south by a city public works site on King, and to the north by GO and CN railway lines.
"It's very much an isolated community," says Stephen Bradley, the city's lawyer.
But the city, although opposed, seems less gung-ho about stopping the proposal altogether. City staff had originally recommended council approve the plan under certain conditions mostly involving the provision of parkland. The old council rejected that plan.
As a result, the city will be calling outside, rather than city staff, as expert witnesses at the OMB.
There, Urbancorp is joining CP Rail to argue for their zoning applications and other amendments. CP is the current owner of the 5.18-hectare triangle of land and hopes to sell the west portion of it to Urbancorp.
The east portion is badly contaminated, another issue for the city's concern.
Urbancorp did not return repeated calls requesting comment.
Given the current composition of the OMB (the Tory government appointed five new members just before losing the election), there's ample reason to worry about inherent prejudice.
It could be months before a review of the OMB promised by the Grits. "Until there's a change in legislation, we'll be operating in the usual manner," says T-Jay Upper, the OMB's senior manager of communications .
Neighbourhood activists point out that Parkdale needs more affordable housing and fewer expensive condos, and that the proposed thousand-person addition would put a burden on the already under-serviced area.
Says resident Andrew Scorer, "I'm suspicious that it doesn't matter what we say to the OMB; they'll side with the developer.'