The Concerned Citizens of Quarry Lands Development (CCQLD) gathered at Birchcliff Bluffs Church on Jan. 18 for their annual general meeting, and to hear the latest developments from Ward 36 councillor Gary Crawford.
Crawford expanded on a failed negotiation between the Conservatory Group, which won the right at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to acquire permits for building ‘Block 1’ of their planned development of highrise residential towers, and Build Toronto, which owns much of the land to the west of the Conservatory Group property. Crawford had attempted to broker a land swap, with Build Toronto trading land more suitable for intensive development near the Scarborough Town Centre for the Conservatory Group’s parcel at Gerrard and Clonmore.
“From our perspective, it [the land near Scarborough Town Centre] was equivalent, if not better,” said Crawford. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t come to an agreement.”
Mark Brender, president of the CCQLD and involved in the organization since 2003, said there were positive signs for the grassroots neighbourhood-based group, which believes no high occupancy development will work well on the site.
“We’ve seen an about-face from Build Toronto,” he said in his opening remarks at the meeting.
Only a few years ago, the CCQLD was fighting both the Conservatory Group’s plans and the city, which supported intensive development on the site until recently.
Other changes in the area include the sale of the retail property at the northeast corner of Gerrard and Victoria Park. That parcel was previously owned by Runnymede, which at one point in the 1980s was behind one of the plans for highrise towers on the site. It sold that property to RioCan, leaving Runneymede with a small chunk of land that wraps around the two gas station properties on Gerrard.
A group of students from York University’s Environmental Studies program is also conducting a project on the Quarry Lands. The project will last a year. Faculty and second-year Masters students in a bioregional planning course are taking into account environmental and site conditions, but ignoring ownership and zoning in their theoretical planning exercise.
Scarborough Southwest MPP Lorenzo Berardinetti spoke as well, pointing out that as soon as it is allowed to intervene, the province will step in and perform extensive drilling and testing to determine what, if any, substances are buried on the land, which has been used in the past both officially and unofficially as a dump site.
“My role is to act as a firewall,” he said. Once a building permit is issued, “at that moment we can ask the Ministry of the Environment to intervene.”
Scarborough Southwest MP Dan Harris was also in attendance, despite the federal government not having any direct say over most of the land in question.
“With the exception of that little sliver of CN Rail land, I have no jurisdiction over these lands,” he said. He did promise to go to bat for his constituents in whatever way he could.
“I’m very loud and obnoxious when I want to be,” he said.
During questioning after the initial presentations, several issues kept coming back. One was a proposed traffic impact study that was never completed. However, after some discussion, Crawford pointed out that whatever the conclusions of a traffic study, it would have no impact on the Conservatory Group’s right to build.
The other hot topic of discussion was the OMB. Berardinetti said he was surprised the environmental concerns were dismissed.
“I’m really disappointed with the OMB, but I can’t control them,” he said.
“Can you get rid of them?,” asked a member of the audience to some applause.
Crawford then mentioned that the City of Toronto is looking into the feasibility of seceding from the OMB.
“We’re as frustrated with the OMB as anyone else,” he said.
Brender said the CCQLD has no intention of giving up its fight against highrise towers being built on the Quarry Lands.
“The fact that we won’t get there through the OMB is not necessarily a negative. There are many, many avenues we can take,” he said.