City council approves controversial development that comes with noise warning to buyers

Toronto city council has approved a settlement for a controversial townhouse development that will require noise warnings to potential buyers, because the homes will be located close to a large transit maintenance facility, recently released documents reveal.

Buyers will be told to keep 'windows and exterior doors' closed to cut down on noise from Metrolinx yard

Artist's rendition of the proposed Dunpar Homes development on Judson Street. The development will come with a warning to purchasers about the noise from the nearby Metrolinx maintenance facility. (City of Toronto)

Toronto city council has approved a settlement for a controversial townhouse development that will require noise warnings to potential buyers, because the homes will be located close to a large transit maintenance facility, recently released documents reveal.

Council voted 34-1 to support the deal worked out between the developer, the city and Metrolinx. The same development proposal led to investigations of two Etobicoke city counciillors who had championed it and pushed council to give it the green light over the objections of the city's planning department.

The documents show the proposed project, developed by Etobicoke-based Dunpar Homes, will be about 300 metres from a massive Metrolinx rail maintenance yard. 

Because of that, the homes will require special noise mitigating measures. The developer will be required to warn buyers about the potential noise and vibration issues they may encounter living there.  

As part of the settlement, the developer also has to install "an internal ventilation system" that assumes residents will keep their "windows and exterior doors" closed to keep the potential noise issues within acceptable levels.

The Dunpar Homes development would have commercial units as well as 72 townhomes. (City of Toronto)

For their part, buyers would have to agree not to hold GO Transit "responsible for any complaints or claims" they may encounter as a result of their proximity to the facility.

Finally the noise warnings would be registered on the titles of their properties so future buyers would be warned, as well.

The proposed homes will be built on Judson Street in south Etobicoke. It's where the Willowbrook rail maintenance yard recently underwent a $100-million expansion. The yard will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to maintain the transit agency's fleet of 5,000-horsepower locomotives.

Metrolinx has said further expansion is possible, too. VIA also uses the area for rail maintenance.

City staff had list of concerns about development

The city's former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat had warned councillors the development by Dunpar would subject residents to the revving of locomotive engines, brake testing, idling trains as well as ringing train bells — much of it during the overnight hours.

"It is our opinion in city planning that this is not good planning and that these would not be livable units," Keesmaat warned.

City staff and Metrolinx also expressed concerns the homes would be too close to the Lakeshore rail lines — the busiest of their kind in Canada.  

Dunpar has since modified its plans somewhat to include the extra noise mitigating features. The company still plans to build 72 townhomes on the land as well as three-storey commercial units. Dunpar has a separate application to build a condo tower on adjacent lands, as well.

Council originally approved development without any warnings to buyers

Even before Dunpar submitted the most recent changes, Etobicoke councillors Justin Di Ciano and Mark Grimes led the charge to approve the project and reject the concerns of city planners. Council, including Mayor John Tory, first gave it the green light in 2016, but Metrolinx appealed the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

The OMB would have had final say on the matter. But now, just weeks before the hearing was set to begin, the settlement was reached.

However, the city never alerted local residents' groups who had filed formal objections to the proposed development.

"There's been absolutely no transparency. Everything seems secret," local resident Dan Irwin told CBC Toronto.

The OMB still has to approve the agreement. The recently released documents show council gave it the thumbs up during the last council meeting held on March 26 and 27.  

Grimes voted to support the move. Di Ciano was listed as absent for the vote.

Councillors under investigation by OPP

Grimes's and Di Ciano's support for the project raised questions about their ties to the developer.

In 2016, the city's integrity commissioner opened an investigation into those connections. She uncovered information that was passed on to police who launched their own investigation. There's nothing to indicate the referral to police was related to the Judson development.

As CBC News has reported, police are looking into alleged Election Act violations possibly related to Dunpar. 

CBC Toronto reported Dunpar picked up the tab for more than $40,000 in polling and campaign research done in both councillors' wards in the lead-up to the 2014 municipal election.

Neither councillor reported the expenses in their election finances as would have been required if they benefited from the polling work.

Developer John Zanini, left, with Coun. Mark Grimes. Police are looking into whether Grimes, right, as well as fellow Etobicoke councillor Justin Di Ciano benefited from polling work paid for by Dunpar Homes, the company run by Zanini.

Grimes, who represents Ward 6, where the proposed Dunpar development is located, has called the allegations "unfounded." Both he and Di Ciano have denied any wrongdoing. 

"All of my campaign expenses were claimed and paid in full, in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act. In addition, my campaign finance documents were reviewed and subsequently authorized by an independent auditor," Grimes said.

Coun. Justin Di Ciano, who represents Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, at a budget committee meeting on Nov. 3, 2017 discussing development charges. (City of Toronto)

In an emailed statement, Coun. Di Ciano, who represents Ward 5, denied Dunpar paid for any campaign-related polling.

"Any insinuation or assumption that a poll was conducted on my behalf or for my 2014 election campaign is completely false, without merit or value."

Dunpar has also denied any wrongdoing. The company's lawyer Howard Litowitz says the company did not authorize polling work for either campaign.

Settlement 'very good news,' Metrolinx says

The proposed settlement would see Dunpar pay Metrolinx $250 000 for further "noise mitigation" measures.

The developer may also build a drop-off area for GO commuters at the nearby Mimico station as part of a possible agreement to mitigate the extra traffic and density in the neighbourhood.  

"This is very good news," Metrolinx spokesperson Anne-Marie Aikins said.

"The settlement addresses our concerns and ensures that both residents and Metrolinx are protected. More details need to be worked out and finalized with the [OMB]."

John Lancaster can be reached at john.lancaster@cbc.ca or 416-205-7538
 

About the Author

John Lancaster

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

John Lancaster is a senior reporter with CBC News focusing on investigative and enterprise journalism. He is a life long resident of Toronto but his stories have taken him across Canada, the US and the Caribbean. His work appears on CBC Toronto, The National and CBC's Marketplace-and of course CBC online and radio. Drop him a line anytime at john.lancaster@cbc.ca.