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Silken Laumann gets OMB approval as Tom Vegh chortles

To the Town’s Operations Centre for the 10am OMB Hearing (28 September 2014). We are in the Training Room decorated in beige and office grey.

At the front, behind a table, sits the pleasant and quietly efficient adjudicator and Vice Chair of the OMB, Jan Seaborn. She has been on the Board since May 2000 and clearly knows the ropes.

In front of her sits Paul De Melo, from Ira Kagan's law firm, representing the developer and with him is his planning expert, the mumbling Gary Templeton. I see the familiar faces of Esther Armchuk, the Town Solicitor, and the genial Dave Ruggle who is the senior planner responsible for the Silken Laumann file. He is silent throughout.

There is a group of people from Silken Laumann who hope to have their say.

Some tinkering needs to be done

To recap. The Developer, in the shape of the numbered company 292145 Ontario, and the Town have stitched up a deal to allow a development of 28 “at grade” townhouses on protected meadowland between the GO rail tracks and the hydro corridor. Paul De Melo tells us he has worked diligently with the Town and they have reached a consensus. He says Metrolinx has no concerns “but some conditions”. He admits that, overall, “some tinkering needs to be done”. In order to bring the project to completion the developer will need access to Town-owned lands. This will be forthcoming if the developer comes up with some “significant benefit” to the Town. This is how the bartering works.

Esther Armchuk tells the Board the Town has worked very hard to “scope down” the issues.

Surrounded by Town owned land

Gary Templeton is now addressing the adjudicator. He says it is a small site, 200 metres long; 55 metres at the southern end and broadening out to 110 metres at its northern end. We are told it abuts municipal land on the north, south and west. He says the plan has not changed since it was first submitted in 2013. He stresses the land is outside the flood plain and that the environmental impact assessment, carried out by the developer’s expert, Beacon, shows the development would not cause “any negative impact”.

He then takes us to s51.24 of the Planning Act and tells us he has “had regard to all the elements in this section” and that in his professional planning view the development is not premature. Whoa! Not so fast!

The Planning Act stipulates that:

“in considering a draft plan of subdivision, regard shall be had… to

(b) whether the proposed subdivision is premature or in the public interest;”

Experts say development “represents good planning”  Pull the other one!

Templeton says the development represents “good planning”. The Town’s Solicitor chimes in that in her view too the development “represents good planning”. I am left wondering what “bad planning” would look like. Their contributions are all so obviously fake.

Now Paul De Melo is going through the formulaic script, ticking the boxes as he goes. It is all so utterly predictable. We hear no objections were raised by York Region and Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. Hydro One had no concerns about proximity of the development to the hydro corridor. Metrolinx, apparently, has no objections, sending in a standard condition in the last few days. Of course, concerns were raised by a number of agencies but these were either worked through (as with the safety berm issue) or shunted into a siding, to be addressed later.

Gene-pool

Now it is open to the members of the public. First up is Katharine McLeod who is concerned about the development’s environmental impact on protected meadowlands. She talks about the importance of wildlife corridors, allowing creatures to travel widely to mate which is good for the gene-pool.

Wasim Jarrah is next up. He appears calm and confident, speaking without a note. He points to the twin tracking issue which, he says, has not been addressed by either side. There has also been no mention of the Town’s proposal for a new GO rail station which could impact on the development.

Another resident, Mary Colton, tells us the area in question is a well-head protection area. How does that square with developing it? She is concerned about protecting our supply of clean drinking water. She is also worried about the absence of a safety berm between the railway and the townhouses. She says children will always go exploring and next to the railway that’s dangerous. She also worries about the noise.

Tom Vegh chortles

I am up next and am feeling a tad hyper. All this stuff about the development representing “good planning” is almost more than I can take. I see the ward councillor, Tom Vegh, amused and chortling as I put in my twopenny worth. He is ostensibly against the development but ends up voting for it.

I return to the points made by Wasim Jarrah. There are proposals from Metrolinx to double track the rail corridor but the implications of this are, as yet, still unclear. There is also a proposal in the Town’s Official Plan to locate a new GO rail station a stone’s throw away on industrial land south of Mulock Drive. Neither the Town, nor the developer, nor indeed the adjudicator shows any curiosity about the Town’s policy on the GO rail station. No questions. No comments. No interest.

The twin tracking seems to be regarded by everyone who is paid to be at the OMB Hearing as speculative. We are asked to believe that Metrolinx would have flagged it up with specific conditions if they were serious about doing anything to the railway corridor. As it is, all they send to the Town are their standard conditions safeguarding their position if developments take place within 300 metres of the railway. (The condition will be posted here as soon as I get it from the Town’s solicitor.)

It is not my finest moment as I badger the developer’s lawyer about the significance or otherwise of the Metrolinx condition – which had been kept from me until that very moment. I feel exasperated by the way in which everything is stage-managed down to the last expert's opinion. Paul De Melo walks up to my table and lays the paperwork in front of me. That’s the condition. It’s all there for you to read.

No basis to stop the development says OMB

Now all eyes are on the adjudicator who, without missing a beat, tells us she will approve the development, citing the close working relationship between Town and developer. She tells us the Town has worked hard with commenting agencies and has gone through the proposal carefully, reviewing it with a fine tooth comb. She says there is no legal or planning basis to stop the development proceeding.

But she says, this doesn’t mean that everything is finalized. There are close to 100 conditions that will have to be satisfied before the first concrete is poured into the protected meadowland.

What do I take from all this?

The whole planning system is totally, hopelessly bankrupt.

Who - other than a professional planner or lawyer – would conclude that what is on offer at Silken Laumann Drive and is now approved in principle “represents good planning”?

Why is it that no-one from the Town – either at the Council on 14 September or at the OMB this morning - is prepared to venture any opinion whatsoever on how the development could impact on its own proposal, set out in the Official Plan, to locate a new GO rail station close by?

The progress of this development needs to be followed very, very closely. Step by step. Condition by condition.

Like Glenway, it has all the makings of another text book classic on what’s wrong with a planning system that is no longer fit for purpose.

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