Shrink Slessor Square!

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Glenway: the final act

I see that a Special Committee of the Whole will be held on Tuesday 22 April at 1.30pm where councillors will receive an update on Marianneville’s plans to destroy the quiet and attractive neighbourhood of Glenway, changing it forever. The developer is intent on “infilling” the former fairways and putting greens with hundreds of new residential units. If past practice is any guide, this meeting will be held in closed session.

On the very same day, at 10am, the OMB phase 2 hearing was due to consider evidence on the technicalities and practicalities of inserting so many new homes into the middle of a hitherto quiet and stable residential area. However, buried deep in the OMB website, I see that the start date has been pushed back to 10am on Wednesday 23 April 2014.

No witness lists. No Witness statements. No issues list.

To the best of my knowledge, no witness statements or witness lists have been exchanged between the two Parties  - Marianneville and the Town of Newmarket – and there seems to be no issues list either. Despite being pressed on several occasions, the OMB has yet to confirm if documents have been exchanged.

I conclude from all this that the outlines of a deal have been agreed between the Town’s professional staff (and their outside consultant advisers) and the developer, Marianneville. It seems councillors will be asked to give it their imprimatur at Tuesday’s special meeting. The following day, if all goes according to the script, the Town and the Developer will tell Susan Schiller, the OMB Adjudicator, that they have negotiated a settlement and they will announce its terms.

Ventriloquists’ dummies

I’d love to believe our councillors are more than ventriloquists’ dummies whose words come from the Town’s professional bureaucracy that has its own agenda. But I am waiting to see the evidence.

First of all, on Tuesday, our councillors need to get into the right mindset. This means putting themselves in the position of Glenway residents whose world is about to be dramatically turned upside down.

They must challenge the advice they will get from their own planners and from the outside consultant brought in to handle the Glenway file, Ruth Victor, if they think that advice is a load of old cobblers. They should relentlessly quiz the Town’s counsel, Mary Bull, who has yet to show she has fully mastered her brief.

Will our councillors be offered options? And fall back positions? Or are they going to be presented with a fait accompli? Is this deal, negotiated with Marianneville’s hard-nosed Ira Kagan, all or nothing?

Did our councillors in the earlier secret sessions of the Committee of the Whole give authority to Town staff to negotiate on their behalf and settle with the developer? Or were the Town’s senior staff given parameters within which they could negotiate and settle?

Slessor Square and the OMB

Over a year ago, our councillors gave “approval in principle” to Slessor Square as recommended by staff.  Yet a thousand and one issues remain to be resolved. At the time, Joe Sponga told his colleagues: “Either we decide or the OMB decides for us and that may land us with a worse development.” Other councillors expressed, in their own way, a weary defeatism. Going to the OMB is too costly and, in any event, we’d lose.

Is that still the prevailing view?

Malign Influence

Certainly, the OMB is a malign influence on the planning system. Its very existence produces decisions that, as Joe Sponga rightly said, might otherwise never have been made.

People all over the Province are up in arms about the OMB. And last Thursday, the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs at the Provincial Legislature took evidence on Bill 20 that would remove Toronto from the authority of the OMB.

The president of the Wellington Place Neighbourhood Association, Ken Greenberg, in an excellent critique, tells MPPs that the current dysfunctional system produces in communities

“a high level of uncertainty, cynicism and alienation”

I think that is an understatement.

Try asking people in Glenway.


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