Former chief planner lays out strategy for Beach development

Planning expert Paul Bedford spoke at length to Beach residents on Nov. 28 in an effort to find a solution to frustrations brought about by new developments in the area.

Bedford, who has over 40 years experience in urban planning, is the former Toronto’s chief city planner, a role he filled from 1996 to 2004. He is also a board member of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (Metrolinx) and is known for his proactive involvement in urban development issues.

The meeting, organized by Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and held at Malvern Collegiate, was of great interest to many people who have been through the painstaking process of opposing developers’ plans in their neighbourhood or who are currently ‘fighting’ a specific development.

The 45 or so attendees eagerly listened to Bedford as he explained that the city of Toronto is getting bigger and has become the largest condo market in the world with a projected population of 10 million by 2031.

“People will pay for the great views,” he said in reference to development along the waterfront which has been in overdrive for the past decade. With increased demand comes increased development in all areas of the city, including the Beach.

Queen and Rainsford, Queen and Bellefair, Kippendavie, Queen and Kenilworth, and Glen Davis Ravine, are but a few recent spots where condos are being built or are planned in the near future.

Development plans for Kippendavie and Glen Davis Ravine, in particular, sparked objections from local residents, and both ending up in hearings at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The Kippendavie development was given the go-ahead, while Glen Davis Ravine is awaiting the OMB’s decision.

“The best approach is to have a dialogue with the planning people,” Bedford said. He suggests that the community research the zoning by-laws because they will usually prevail over the city’s official planning or any guidelines set for the area.

He went on to say that the community should not simply oppose development. “You want to shape the development and try to get some benefits out of it,” he said. “If you just say no, you are going to lose.”

Using his own neighbourhood as an example, Bedford explained how you can ask the developer for added amenities such as trees, playgrounds, parks, or to sponsor a big project near by.

McMahon explained how Councillor Mark Grimes worked with the city and developers in Ward 6 in Etobicoke to develop a skating trail. Out of the $2 million that the project cost, $500,000 came in the form of levies from developers.

McMahon is hoping to see a similar project in the Beach.

“I would like us to work on a big plan for our ward,” admitted McMahon, emphasizing the importance of being proactive. Defining the needs of the community ahead of time would empower the residents when a new development is proposed.

The biggest frustration heard from the attendees was the uphill battle they encounter when developers go to the OMB.

“The deck is always stacked in favour of the developers. All the support we receive seems irrelevant,” said lawyer Martin Gladstone.

Abolishing the OMB has been suggested by some provincial politicians including Beaches/East York MP Michael Prue during his campaign a few months ago.

The City of Toronto is also considering dealing with development issues internally and bypassing the OMB. This would mean that  local committees would make the final decisions on issues between developers and the community residents.

“If the OMB is abolished the City of Toronto will need to make changes to accountability and political system,” said Bedford.

Bedford foresees development in what he calls ‘soft spots’. These include the Shell gas station at the corner of Queen and Woodbine, the TD bank on Queen and Lee, and the Beach Mall.

“I suspect the three to six storey range will stick,” he added. “Change will continue to happen. The Beach is in pretty good shape.”

In the meantime a new resident association has bloomed in the Beach. Friends of Queen Street (FOQS) aims to bring the Beach community together to ensure developments follow the rules and that they fit within the unique character of the neighbourhood.

“We are not anti-development,” said Jason Self, a member of FOQS adding that future development needs to stay within guidelines.

The group hopes to bring together six or seven different associations such as the Friends of Glen Davis Ravine, currently fighting a development on Kingston Road near Main Street, the Kew Beach Neighbourhood Association, which recently fought the Kippendavie condo development, Toronto Beach East Resident Association (T-BERA), The Beach Triangle, and others.

“The idea is to get all of the little groups to work together so there’s greater strength,” said FOQS member Brian Graff.

“It’s great that the local resident associations are coming together so that we can all learn from each other,” said McMahon. McMahon is also planning to have a community walk early in the new year so residents can visit and talk about the different segments of Queen Street.

“I think this is proactive and an opportunity to talk and have dialogue. Often people just argue and don’t discuss and that’s why I think this has been useful,” said Bedford of the meeting and future plans. “You don’t have to like it or want it. You have to learn to live with it,” emphasized Bedford.

To find out more about Friends of Queen Street, please visit their website www.foqs.ca.

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