Monday, May 9, 2011

Trio of councillors hopes to stop Downsview development plans

Development must still be approved by Toronto councillors later this month

Trio of councillors hopes to stop Downsview development plans. The Downsview Area Secondary Plan boundary is marked in the dark blue outline. The study area is marked by the green dashed line. Image/TCN
The largest development proposed in Toronto in more than half a century is being fought by the three councillors representing the community. 
On April 21, North York community council approved the massive development, which will bring about 20,000 new residents and another 20,000-plus workers to Downsview over the next several years.
It must still be approved by councillors at the May 17-18 city council meetings.
York Centre Councillor Maria Augimeri, whose ward would take in much of the development, opposes the plan because she argues it would add the equivalent of a small town into the already overburdened community.
The result would be traffic chaos and over-taxed services, she said.
Adding insult to injury, she added, much of the development will take place on Downsview Park, which former prime minister Jean Chrétien promised as an urban park.
But when Ottawa refused to back up that promise with funding, Downsview Park was forced to resort to development opposed by the community to bankroll the park, Augimeri said.
She is hoping she, fellow York Centre Councillor James Pasternak and York West Councillor Anthony Perruzza can convince city council to turn down the development.
The three councillors, in whose wards the development would be built, stood alone opposing the plan at community council.
The development would span about 530 hectares (1,300 acres) roughly bounded by Keele Street to the west, Allen Road to the east, Sheppard Avenue to the north and Wilson Avenue to the south (see map at right).
The secondary plan review also looked at the broader community to provide a wider context. The larger study area was bounded by Jane Street, Bathurst Street, Finch Avenue and Hwy. 401.
Major landowners in the area include Bombardier Aerospace, the Department of National Defence, the City of Toronto, including the Toronto Economic Development Corporation, and Downsview Park.
Downsview Park president William Bryck has called the development the most significant planning proposal in Toronto in more than half a century.
He compared it to Don Mills, Canada's renowned first fully planned community built in the 1950s.
"What Don Mills was to Toronto of the last century, Downsview Park is to Toronto this century," he said when the issue was debated at the March meeting of community council.
At April's community council meeting, Bryck said that while Downsview Park officials didn't get everything they wanted in the drawn-out political battle over the development proposal, they are pleased community council approved the plan.
"We're happy we're moving ahead," he said. "It has been a long time and a lot of money has been spent. We're happy to be at this point."
Downsview Park held many community consultation meetings with residents, Bryck added.
However, some critics accuse Downsview Park of paying lip service to residents' concerns. Some also worry about the possibility of an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board should the plan stall.
Meanwhile, many residents have concerns about the development.
For example, Albert Krivickas, vice-president of the Downsview Lands Community Voice Association, is worried about the infrastructure costs associated with adding the equivalent of a small city to the existing community.
He sent a letter to councillors, Mayor Rob Ford and Premier Dalton McGuinty saying city consultants have estimated sewer costs alone at over $100 million.
"I recommend we send this bill directly to the Ontario government," he said.
"The only money the Ontario government has provided is for the extension of the University subway line going to York University. City staff reports keep saying there are 'no financial implications' and intend to bury these costs into the 'city's usual capital budget process'. In other words, Toronto taxpayers will be paying the whole bill...This is an unfair burden."
Augimeri is furious city taxpayers could be on the hook for capital infrastructure costs.
"For me, personally, I feel like selling my house and taking the Ontario government to court," Krivickas said.
"It is the biggest development in Toronto's history. The city is cornered. As a taxpayer, we're screwed. It's the law, they (the province) should pay 100 per cent."
There are two areas where the community's voice has been heard.
After a vocal community campaign, on and off ramps between Allen Road and Wilson Heights Boulevard have been saved.
Also, community council directed city staff to make sure community amenities are built in a timely manner as the development proceeds.

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