Reflections on an OMB decision
Happy New Year to one and all! Much has recently happened that will affect our community for years to come. Notably, the decision of the OMB to favour the developer’s appeal for the ‘Shell station’ site at Queen and Woodbine was not totally unexpected, but still a bitter disappointment to many who worked long and hard as volunteers to preserve the character of Queen Street East, particularly the view of the historic fire hall clock tower considered to be the ‘Gateway to the Beach.’
There were fundraising concerts, wine and cheese parties by residents, information evenings, lawn signs, door to door volunteers, and a highly respected municipal law firm at the helm. (A big thanks to lawyer Dennis Wood of Wood Bull LLP for all his firm gave to our community pro bono). The Greater Beach Neighbourhood Association (GBNA) worked around the clock to provide a strong case at the OMB hearing.
At the centre of the developer’s appeal was the “Beach Bible” of Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, known as The Visioning Study or the Urban Design Guidelines (UDG).
The UDG was a grassroots study of Queen Street East that cost taxpayers $200,000. Unfortunately, the guidelines are essentially voluntary and were by and large disregarded by the Ontario Municipal Board. At the end of the day the UDG carried no legal weight.
Many residents are now concerned about the precedent set for the upcoming hearings at the OMB given other Queen Street East sites slated for development. Many others felt the community would have been better served by an interim control bylaw if council had passed one in January 2012, which could have stopped development applications for two years.
The timing of this decision will certainly be on the minds of voters for two upcoming elections: a municipal election in October 2014 and a possible provincial election in the spring. This would be a critical time to make these matters election issues.
It is very encouraging that MPP Rosario Marchese (Trinity-Spadina) has pushed his private member’s bill to exempt Toronto from the OMB’s control of planning issues.
His bill has passed second reading in the legislature. If successful, it would give the city authority over zoning bylaws, development approvals and other planning matters. It would also allow for the establishment of a new appeals body of its own.
Ontario would then be the last province in Canada to abolish this anachronistic board and put the power back into the hands of the community and accountable elected officials.
Imagine if the people we elected were responsible for the zoning decisions of our community – and not people who were appointed at the pleasure of the government. The principle is simple: give the final word on zoning and development to a democratically elected local municipal council, not appointed OMB members, who in the vast majority of cases, side with the developers.
Last year, Toronto city council voted 34-5 to pull out of the OMB for precisely the same reasons. However, there is little consensus (or interest in) on what would take its place, not to mention the cost to the city. The vote at this point is largely symbolic.
One encouraging light is that while Queen Street East continues to “intensify” and its small town character vanishes to condominiums and larger retail stores, there is a group of residents who recognize that our heritage and history are too precious to lose and are doing something about it.
The Beach and East Toronto Historical Society (BETHS) has recently revitalized and welcomes one and all to get involved. The purpose is to “raise awareness of local history in the east end of Toronto through meetings, special events and publications.” Clearly, BETHS has a critical role to play in preserving local history when it is under so much development pressure. A separate committee has been formed to work on the possibility of a Heritage Conservation District for parts of Queen Street East.
2014 may shape up to be a year of positive change for us. The more you become involved with local groups such as BETHS and GBNA, and involved in our elections, the better that change can be.
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