Who would have thought that a city plan to build some affordable housing for seniors in the vicinity of the Skydome would turn into a heated debate about security and global terrorism? But that's exactly what's happened as Paul Godfrey and his Toronto Blue Jays baseball organization - major Skydome tenants - try to block construction of several hundred apartment units on a plot of municipal land south of Bremner Boulevard between Rees Street and Van de Water Crescent.
Sometime in the next week or so, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) will wrap up the hearing it's conducting in regard to the property legally known as Block 18A/B, 28 Rees Street, Toronto. Then the provincially appointed development tribunal will start chewing over all it has heard in the past couple of months about Official Plan Amendment No. 229 and Zoning Bylaw No. 459-2002.
There's the pro and there's the con, lots of both from lawyers for the two sides in this painful land use tiff. And let it be said that some of the evidence the thoughtful board members will have to consider is, in a word, bizarre.
It all got started back in late February when the Blue Jays enlisted major league baseball's director of security and facility management to scare the bejeebers out of the OMBers in support of Godfrey's contention that elderly poor folk really shouldn't be living a line drive away from the Skydome.
As the former Metro chair and one-time media magnate sees it, the proposed residence is an "affront to seniors' because it's "remote from public transit' and is planned for an area "that is extremely congested with automobiles and pedestrians coming to or from' events at the Dome. But since there was no guarantee the OMB would buy that argument (afterall, there are lots of seniors living in nearby condos who manage quite nicely), the Jays hauled out the terrorist threat.
"Since the historic and horrific events of September 11, 2001, and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, there has been a heightened concern about the safety of major league baseball facilities and the potential that these facilities could be targets for car and truck bombings," former New York deputy police chief Dan Mullin said in his witness statement.
And you know that city-owned ramp leading to the Skydome parkade that the oldsters want to access so cars can get in and out of their building's parking lot? Well, the way Mullin put it was: "The commingling of residential traffic on the driveway access ramp and the entrance to the Skydome would only serve to exacerbate some of the security issues that were pointed out in the Skydome risk assessment" recently conducted by the league.
The T.O. facility got a lousy C rating "in certain areas of security." And "from a safety and security perspective, (any proposal that allows) proposed seniors residential facility traffic" to share a parking lot ramp with Skydome traffic is "inappropriate."
It "increases the level of danger and threat to the safety and security of the players on the Skydome field (as well as) spectators and visitors in the stadium."
In other words, build an apartment building for the aged behind the already vulnerable baseball pitch and the bomb-loaded Econolines will start showing up faster than you can say "pension cheque."
This has all been a bit too much for Councillor Olivia Chow, a huge supporter of the long-overdue residential development at the southern end of her constituency. Appeals launched by Godfrey and the Blue Jays have held up the project for two years, not to mention the "tens of thousands of dollars" the city is doling out for lawyers, planners and such.
"It's total hogwash," the councillor for Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina) says of the security risk argument Rogers Blue Jays Baseball Partnership has made. She calls it a desperate ninth-inning pitch to persuade the OMB to reverse the council-approved rezoning of 28 Rees Street from commercial to residential. To support her position, Chow pulls out a statement the city got from a highly regarded expert of its own.
International security consultant Martina Joksimovic says if the Blue Jays are really concerned about bad guys busting into their place with a load of explosives, they might do better than manually controlled wooden drop arms at the entrance to Skydome's loading bay.
And get some quick-action doors for the receiving dock. An army of terrorists could get through in the 30 seconds it takes for the existing portal to shut tight.
And what about some surveillance cameras inside the garage and some instruments at the entrance to detect nasty materials that have no place anywhere near a ball diamond?
The current conditions "could allow a malicious person to deposit CBRNE (chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear and explosive) material in the parking lot without detection," Joksimovic maintains.
And "there are no emergency response (aka code blue) stations with which to call emergency staff within the garage," she adds.
And about that ramp the seniors want to share with the Blue Jays until they steer their autos into their building's parking lot? "It is my opinion that the level of risk associated with the use of the existing ramp is relatively low," says the woman who has helped major airports and high-profile buildings around the world address their security concerns.
Then Joksimovic launches into a dissertation concerning the Dome's real vulnerabilities and the "many ways to inflict damage" without going anywhere near the disputed ramp.
For example, "a vehicle containing CBRNE materials would cause greater damage by simply driving straight through the glass-curtain walls at grade at several locations in the Skydome," the expert witness states.
She went on to point out some other easy methods that could be utilized to make a real mess of the Blue Jays' nest, but we're not compiling a terrorist handbook here. Suffice it to say that sharing a concrete ramp with some elderly drivers is the least of the ball team's security worries.
Hopefully, the OMB will see things the same way.