A new compromise for the development of Toronto's waterfront lands has been hammered out by city councillors and was approved unanimously at a council meeting on Wednesday.
The latest scheme, worked out behind closed doors among councillors normally at odds with each other, gave control of the Port Lands area to Waterfront Toronto, the arms-length agency charged with developing large swaths of land by Lake Ontario.
It appears that groups opposed to Mayor Rob Ford's vision for the Port Lands area that would have transformed the property into a glitzy tourist-focused area — replete with a giant ferris wheel, monorail and sprawling shopping complex — have got their way.
A motion due to go before council Wednesday would have allowed the city-run Toronto Port Lands Company to wrest control of the Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto, the arms-length agency charged with developing large swaths of land by Lake Ontario.
But that motion was amended to allow Waterfront Toronto to continue to take the lead to develop the lands.
Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents the Port Lands area, characterized the new deal as a victory for Torontonians against what she called "a Yorkdale on the waterfront."
'A real Toronto moment'
"What we've learned here is that Torontonians have taken ownership of the waterfront," she said.
"I think it's a real Toronto moment, where the citizenry kind of rises up and says, 'Oh no, you're not doing it like that; you have to listen to what we want."
One group, CodeBlueTO, railed against Ford's proposed waterfront, collecting 6,000 names on a petition opposing it.
Fletcher, who was part of talks for the past week to devise a different kind of water redevelopment scheme, said the concerns of residents were taken into account during the last-minute round of discussions to devise a waterfront compromise. Some councillors in the mayor's inner circle even had "terrible reservations" about the Ford plan, she said, adding that she received 4,000 emails on the issue alone.
The need to speed up the development was clear, Fletcher said.
"It really responds to what people in Toronto have said to us over the last three weeks: It's not broken, don't fix it, but make it go faster."
It's not clear exactly what the new development timeline is.
Coun. Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, had criticized Waterfront Toronto's plan for the area, which called for an emphasis on green space, livability and sustainability in a mixed-use urban community. That plan came after a $19-million environmental impact assessment, and was expected to address flood protection.
The councillor had pitched the idea for the area to add a ferris wheel, monorail and shopping, to be ready within 10 years.
Ford loyalist Coun Peter Milcyzn says councillors have learned a lesson from the reaction to that scheme.
"We weren't as clear and as precise as to what the city's intents and goals are there, and that there's a better way of doing it, continuing the work of Waterfront Toronto has a lead agency, and working together," Milcyzn said.
Speaking to CBC's Matt Galloway on Metro Morning Wednesday, Fletcher said one positive outcome of the waterfront debate was that the consensus on a new plan would allow all parties involved to pursue it with renewed vigour. At the end of the day, she noted, the public is now more engaged on the topic than ever before.
"We now have a new lens to look at the waterfront," she said.
"We have a chance to do this once and we have a chance to do it right, and we owe it to future generations to do it right."