The High Park Community Alliance (HPCA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) on June 5th confronted the changing circumstances and difficult choices that lay ahead. The main question was about what to expect and what to do given the pro-development changes made by the Ontario Conservative Government to planning regulations and the Ontario Municipal Board.
About 50 local residents attended to discuss the issues with Ward 4 Councillor Gord Perks, Parkdale High Park MPP Bhutila Karpoche, HPCA lawyer Ian Flett, and consulting urban designer Shahrzad Davoudi.
Ms. Karpoche outlined Bill 108 and the ways it will make development approvals faster and minimize community involvement in local development. Ms. Karpoche noted that the bill would likely receive Royal Assent the next day (which it did), but she still encouraged the community to write to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (Steve Clark) and the Premier to oppose the Bill, as there has been success in having the Province roll back recent decisions after public outcry against changes in policy.
Ms. Davoudi described the principles of the High Park North Apartment Neighbourhood Area Character Study, which was developed by the City in response to the Minto and GWL applications to add 7 tall towers between existing buildings north of the High Park TTC Station. She detailed the height and spacing guidelines the Bylaw sought to impose to limit the scope of the applications.
Ms. Davoudi explained that the Study, now Official Plan Amendment # 419, is currently under appeal. The Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) has also ruled that it will not consider OPA #419 as determinative when it hears the first case (Great West Life/35 High Park Ave application) in January 2020, but will only take it into consideration.
Councillor Perks acknowledged the changed circumstances (Bill 108) which make the likelihood of success for the City and residents at the OMB even more unlikely than before, despite the over-sized nature of the two applications.
He also noted that City Planning and City Legal still feel there is a strong case to be made to the OMB in support of OPA #419.
Mr. Perks advised residents against trying to raise the significant funds needed for a full OMB fight as he argued the City would be doing this. But, he was also clear that there may be some points where he and the City have differing opinions from the community on what compromises are acceptable in High Park North. He reminded us that his responsibility is to the whole city and trying to make ‘the best decision possible’ and that he and the City could be faced with a ‘lesser of two evils’ choice.
Mr. Perks noted that he has never voted in Council against the City’s planners/lawyers recommendations. Whereas, on the Grenadier Square towers currently being built at Quebec & Bloor, former Councillor Sarah Doucette sided with residents in rejecting a City-led settlement proposal, and voted against city planning/lawyers recommendations.
The Councillor reminded HPCA membership that settlement offers “can come up”. These would be negotiations aimed at avoiding a formal OMB hearing based on compromises agreed to by the City and the developers. In the event of a settlement being reached, the Councillor said he would hold a meeting to present the proposal to the community.
This led to questions about whether residents (individuals and the HPCA) would be at the negotiating table, as they are official Parties in the OMB process. This has been the community’s request from the beginning, and was behind HPCA’s initial moves to incorporate, hire counsel, and the register at the OMB as an official Party to the proceedings.
He admitted that even in a settlement process, there may be a time when the City and local residents find themselves holding different positions about the development applications.
HPCA lawyer Ian Flett then spoke about the various options oen to residents. His advice, “prepare for war, hope for peace”. “War” would involve a contested hearing at the OMB, the first of which is set for January 20, 2020. This is an expensive process and usually one where the ‘winner takes all’. In the current political climate, it is also possible that the OMB will be even more pro-development than it has in previous years.
Mr. Flett explained that as an official Party to the hearing, HPCA will be able to challenge the evidence and rationales put forward by GWL, the first developer to be heard. The reality is, the way to a strong challenge is having a lot of money in the ‘war chest’.
He described the “Volkswagen” vs. “Cadillac” approaches.
We have a number of choices in respect of the expertise of the witnesses we may wish to hire. But that generally, the Tribunal is more persuaded by the evidence of seasoned experts than lay people.
Mr. Flett also explained the “peace” scenario, which is either the settlement option described above, or formal mediation involving a third party.
Mr. Flett described the settlement process as “an exercise in imagination” in which residents identify the needs of the community and advocate for their inclusion in the development. It would almost certainly involve accepting a level of intensification far greater than desired.
He encouraged HPCA members to consider the merits of this option, noting that with a seat at the table, a settlement (or mediation) would give the community a role in shaping the developments, whereas a loss at an OMB contested hearing would not.
In both instances, the HPCA will have to advocate for a seat at the table. Settlement talks can be initiated by the developer and could take place behind closed doors with the City, and without community involvement. A formal mediation process would involve a broad range of stakeholders.
It was made clear to Councillor Perks at the AGM that a “seat at the table” is what residents expect.
1. On June 10, 2019 Minto submitted a motion to the OMB requesting that its application be heard at the same time as that of GWL, currently scheduled for January 20, 2020. Minto’s motion will be considered at a pre-hearing on June 25th. HPCA has, on the advice of counsel, notified the OMB that it will oppose this motion. Mr. Flett will argue that Minto’s request comes too late and threatens to disrupt an efficient, cost effective, and fair hearing for the Parties.
2. 35 High Park AVe/Great West Life – Full contested hearing scheduled for January 2020. 15 days in length.
3. 299 Glenlake application – complies with Official Plan Amendment 419 (the result of the Area Character Study undertaken last year in High Park North) so the City appears to be in support.
4. Councillor Perks announced that the OPA #419 won an urban planning excellence award recently, and that the City Legal department has indicated they are inclined to defend this OPA at the OMB’s contested hearings.
IN OTHER AGM BUSINESS: