Toronto officials slam provincial order that sidesteps planning for West Don Lands

Some Toronto councillors and Mayor John Tory are decrying the provincial government’s use of a controversial planning power that it is using to sidestep city planning processes for development sites in the West Don Lands.

Premier says orders will help cut down on process time

Mayor John Tory says the province has been a solid partner with the city, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic. But, he said Tuesday, 'the city should have the domain over its own planning decisions within our boundaries.' (CBC)

Some Toronto councillors and Mayor John Tory are decrying the provincial government's use of a controversial power to sidestep city planning processes for development sites in the West Don Lands.

The province's move would allow for towers as high as 50 storeys tall without consultation with the city — something that has rankled Tory. At a press conference Tuesday, he said the city heard about the move right before it happened, with no consultation at all.

"I think that is a less than ideal situation, to say the least," Tory said.

The orders impact three sites that the province owns: 373 Front Street East and 90 Mill Street, 125 and 125R Mill Street and 153 to 185 Eastern Avenue.

According to a news release from Coun. Joe Cressy, Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) for the sites were discovered "by chance" by a city planning staffer. The tool allows the province to overrule local planning.

Cressy says these MZOs shutter community input, sidestep the municipal process and raise questions about how the city can now properly plan these sites. It also sets a "dangerous precedent" for the development of other provincial lands in the GTA, he said.

"Good urban planning and development requires all levels of government to work together to achieve the best results for the community," Cressy said in a statement.

"It also means residents have a chance to weigh in on proposals and advocate for the changes they want to see in their neighbourhood, whether that's more affordable housing, parks and green space, or community services.

"Rushing forward without these steps means missing vital information that will determine how well new projects and developments work for the people that live, work, and play all around them."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday that the province and the city communicate well. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

At a press conference Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford noted that these are provincial lands, but did also say that the province "should always be consulting."

Ford also said the province will create 1,000 affordable housing units on the site in question.

"Sometimes you have to put in an MZO instead of wait two, three years to go through all the process," Ford said. "We're in desperate need of affordable housing across this province. There's no place we need it more than Toronto."

Cressy's news release says both he and Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam are planning to introduce an emergency order at city council Tuesday calling on the province to work with the city on all development proposals.

Wong-Tam said in a statement that the province's use of the MZO without any communication is "another example of Premier Ford's contempt for the City of Toronto's ability to govern our own affairs.

"It's about ensuring that MZOs go through a process that ensures the city and its residents are consulted and that outcomes are mutually agreed upon by both the city and province," Wong-Tam said.