At the first community consultation for a high-rise condo proposed on Main Street just south of the Danforth, attendees—including a local councillor—learned that the developer has already appealed the application to the Ontario Municipal Board.
“This has been appealed already?” Ward 31 Coun. Janet Davis said at the public meeting held inside Hope United Church on Jan. 10. It was news to her.
“Why would you not work with the community?” she then asked Steve Deveaux, vice president of land development at Tribute Communities, the developer proposing a 30-storey mixed-use condo tower at 286-294 Main St.
“We’re completely prepared to work with the community,” Deveaux, whose company is working with Greywood Realty on the project, responded.
“Well then why appeal?” the councillor pressed.
“Because the process that’s been created — that isn’t fully understood — changes the policy context, changes decision making and it’s not fully understood what the result of that process will be, so out of an abundance of caution we’ve appealed the application,” he explained before an audience of about 60 people.
“But as we’ve said to staff, and I said here at the end of my presentation, we’ve fully committed to working with the community to try and come up with something that works with everybody,” he added.
Deveaux was speaking about changes to the way land development disputes in Ontario are resolved. The Ontario Municipal Board, which rules on development disputes in the province, is being reformed as the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, a move Beaches-East York MPP Arthur Potts said will give local bodies more control over planning decisions.
The new tribunal was formed through Liberal Bill 139, the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Acts. It already has royal assent but it has not come into effect, said a spokesperson from Environment and Land Tribunals Ontario. “[It] will come into effect on a day to be proclaimed,” the spokesperson said.
“Until transition regulations are in place and the Bill has been proclaimed, the OMB operates under current rules and procedures. As such, the OMB is still accepting appeals, and any matter before the OMB will be processed under the current rules,” the spokesperson continued.
Tribute was able to appeal on the grounds of city council not making a decision on the application within the timeline prescribed by the province. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.
Asked if Tribute would build the tower, as proposed, if the OMB rules in its favour, Deveaux wouldn’t say yes or no.
“The reason we appealed the application wasn’t because we were dissatisfied with the municipal process at all,” he said. He called the new planning-appeal process “unfair” and reiterated uncertainty surrounding it.
“We believe our application is a good, responsible application that meets provincial and local policy. We understand that there are a lot of legitimate concerns from the community and from staff. We want to work with them to try and get to a point where we’re all satisfied,” he said.
Daniel Woolfson, a senior planner for the Toronto and East York District, said appeals like this are “fairly common,” though he added looming OMB changes “led to this happening more.”
If city council has not made a decision on an official plan amendment within 180 days and a zoning-bylaw amendment within 120 days, the applicant can appeal to the OMB. “That’s a legislative requirement that we cannot do anything about,” Woolfson added. The city received Tribute’s application on June 30, 2017.
Local planning lawyer Phil Pothen, who was vocal about his worries regarding local schools’ abilities to absorb more students in the area, called Tribute’s OMB appeal “a tactic to keep the maximum number of rights open to them.”
“They want to be able to try it both ways. So, if they preserve their appeal rights under this process then they get one kick at the can under this process, and if that doesn’t work then they can try again in the new process,” Pothen added.
At the meeting, attendees also expressed concerns about increased strains on public transit from the 301-unit development, as well as impacts on parking and traffic in the area.
The tower would have three levels of underground parking for a total of 114 spaces, which sparked worries about where residents of the other 187 would park. But Deveaux suggested they might not park anywhere at all.
“The best research I have is a building we went to market with in November of 2009,” he said. “We went to market a 318-unit building with zero parking, and we sold it out.”
“Our evidence, our on-the-ground evidence, is showing us that the large majority of people are finding ways to live without a car,” he continued.
Another concern voiced was the spread of units for the proposal. As proposed, there are no three-bedroom suites—the project average is about 670 square feet—but Deveaux noted Tribute would “take a hard look” at adding some. “But at the same time, the larger the units get, the more expensive they get and it calls into question the issue of affordability,” Deveaux said.
A recent staff report has called the development proposal “inappropriate” for the area, though Tribute disputed this, citing the project’s proximity to transit, including the TTC Main Station and the Danforth GO Station. Tribute also pointed to Main Square, which is located across the street from the proposal site and reaches a height of 29 storeys for its tallest of three towers.
After the meeting, Coun. Davis questioned Tribute’s actions. “It feels a bit disingenuous to say you’re going to work with the community but at the same time you’ve appealed it before the dialogue has even begun,” she said.
“I’m not sure how they are going to engage with the community, but very clearly there have to be changes to this application in order to respond to the kinds of comments that I heard tonight,” she added.
No date has been set for the next consultation for the 286 Main Street application, but updates will be posted to www.toronto.ca/danforthstudy.