Councillor calls for end to developers commandeering city sidewalks, streets

Construction sites that engulf neighbouring sidewalks and lanes of roadway, creating traffic bottlenecks and serpentine pedestrian detours, will be in the crosshairs at this week's Toronto city council meeting.

Developers say house prices could spike if they're denied public staging areas

Builders 'rent' sidewalks and lanes of traffic from the city to use as staging areas for their equipment, causing big traffic problems for pedestrians and drivers. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

Construction sites that engulf neighbouring sidewalks and roads creating traffic bottlenecks and serpentine pedestrian detours will be in the crosshairs at this week's Toronto city council meeting.

Midtown Coun. Josh Matlow wants city staff to look into the feasibility of forcing developers to use their own land — not public thoroughfares — as equipment staging areas.

He said the practice is one of the biggest causes of gridlock.

"Get off our roads, get off our sidewalks. Go build on your own property," Matlow said last week. "You make money over there, let us move around over here."

But developers say city policies that demand the highest densities possible in new residential developments are forcing them to build on every square inch they own.

Dave Wilkes, president and CEO of BILD-GTA, a group that speaks for developers, warns that if they're forced to use their own land as storage areas, the cost of building will increase. And that cost will be passed on to home buyers.

Coun. Josh Matlow, who represents the construction-heavy midtown Ward 22 St. Paul's, wants an end to developers taking over street lanes and sidewalks. (John Hanley/CBC News)

"One of our members indicated that could be anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 a unit," he said. Other developers will be tempted to get out of the home building business all together.

Besides, he said, the city actually makes money when developers take over sidewalks as staging areas, charging "rents" that can total hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the length of the project.

He said the industry is prepared to work with councillors to find a compromise. But Matlow's motion "has been brought forward with no analysis, no consultation and no understanding of the impact it would have on the supply and affordability of housing in the GTA," according to Wilkes. 

Closing sidewalks causes unnecessary hardships for the elderly and those living with disabilities, Matlow said. (John Hanley/CBC News)

But Matlow said he's not convinced that forcing developers to use only land they own would scare home builders out of the market.

"It may cost the developers more money to do it but in reality the developer was a speculator who decided to make a bunch of money on a certain property," he said.

"Why should they just assume they should be able to take over our streets and our sidewalks.

"It's their right to develop, but it's our right to be able to move around our city, and that should be respected too."

Dave Wilkes is president and CEO of BILD-GTA, which represents the region's developers. (John Castell/CBC News)

City staff say there are currently 115 construction projects underway in Toronto that have overtaken roads or sidewalks.

Because Matlow's motion is being presented directly to council, it won't be considered unless he can get the support of two-thirds of councillors. 

If he can't, the motion will be referred to the executive committee, and likely wouldn't come back to council until next year.

Developers say that without the ability to use public roads and sidewalks, their building costs would rise - and that increase would be passed on to the home buyer. (John Hanley/CBC News)


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