A Mimico residents’ group still wants to know how their neighbourhood lost out on $100,000 in proposed money for local amenities.
The cash was part of an arrangement with a condominium developer, which would have provided $250,000 for local parks improvements in exchange for increasing the size of a condo project at Lakeshore Boulevard and Superior Avenue.
The building is now taking shape, looming 11 storeys, much higher than the many two-storey homes and shops nearby. And the money intended to lessen the building’s impact on the community has been greatly reduced.
According to a City of Toronto staff report, Davies Smith Developments had agreed to the original amount in June 2011, after discussions with planning staff and the local councillor. The report was adopted by community council, and a few weeks later, it headed to city council for final approval.
This time, when the matter was brought up, area councillor Mark Grimes stood and told fellow councillors he had a “technical amendment” to the deal. He recommended that council require the developer to provide “$150,000 for local parks and improvements." He made no mention of the fact that the developer had already agreed to pay $100,000 more. Grimes provided no explanation for the reduction.
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The change caught local residents by surprise.
“The community didn’t know,” said Peggy Moulder, a member of the Lakeshore Planning Council Corporation (LPCC), a residents’ group that monitors urban planning in south Etobicoke. “And it wasn’t even clear [when Grimes presented the motion] that this was an actual reduction from what was approved at community council.”
No agreement on $250K, Grimes says
Coun. Grimes declined an on-camera interview, but in an email response to CBC News wrote, “there was never an agreement reached with the applicant for $250,000 in Section 37 cash contribution.” Instead, he said, “I recommended the $250,000 to try and negotiate the maximum benefit for the community.”
'It’s not an entitlement to build; it’s a privilege to build.' - Timothy Dobson, LPCC president and chair
He then indicated that “Section 37 contributions are voluntary payments, negotiated with the applicant, the local councillor and planning staff” and said that the motion he moved at city hall in July 2011, was a “minor technical amendment approved openly and transparently by City Council reflecting the actual agreement reached through negotiation.”
Section 37 of the Planning Act in Ontario allows developers to pay cash to municipalities or provide community facilities in exchange for increasing the height or density of a new building. The idea is that the money will help mitigate the increased traffic and strain on amenities the development could bring to an existing neighbourhood. The agreements aren’t mandatory, and the transactions are calculated on a case-by-case basis. But this particular transaction raised eyebrows in the ward.
$250K not enough?
In September 2011, Timothy Dobson, president and chair of LPCC, wrote a letter to Mayor Rob Ford and members of council outlining the group’s concern that “council members were not properly informed of the substantial change [in the Section 37 contribution] prior to their vote on the amendment.” The letter asked council to reopen the item and hold a new vote. The group says it has never gotten a response.
As for the original $250,000 amount, Dobson isn’t even sure that was enough. The condo building, which is currently under construction, sits on a site the city staff report called a “parkland priority area,” just steps from the waterfront.
“There’s the whole question of whether [the higher amount of] $250,000 is even a good value,” said Dobson. “It’s not an entitlement to build; it’s a privilege to build, so in exchange for that privilege, you give back a certain amount to the community in various forms — parkland, hospitals, whatever.“
Since the late '90s Mimico has been in the midst of an aesthetic overhaul. A once-dingy motel strip south of the Gardiner Expressway is now the new Humber Bay Shores neighbourhood. Thousands of condo units have sprung up across the ward, with many more still in the works.
'The big winners are the developers.' - Resident Peggy Moulder
In his email to CBC News, Coun. Grimes listed a number of Section 37 contributions from developments that have benefited his ward, including “the restoration of Mimico Train Station, Sam Smith Skating Trail, Eighth St. Skateboard Park” and others.
The 11-storey Davies Smith condominium is going up in the main commercial stretch on Lakeshore Boulevard. in Mimico. In a cafe across from the building site, Paul Chomik, a longtime Mimico resident and LPCC member told CBC News, “Time and time again the community was told, ‘Oh, we’re going to put all these people in [Mimico] and it’s going to make the main street here prosperous and this, that, and the other. And all these benefits that were promised to the community over and over again never happened.”
Dobson added: “We feel this area has been very short-changed in terms of the monies.”
City officials have also long complained there isn’t enough money for much-needed improvements to transit and other infrastructure.
Moulder commiserated: “The big winners are the developers and the big losers are the public.”
CBC News reached out to Davies Smith for this story, but the developer offered no comment.
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