Issues & Policies
A bad deal for Scarborough residents keeps getting worse. The cost of the 1-stop subway proposal has risen to $3.346 billion, a 50% increase from when the project was first announced in early 2016. As the cost is going up, Staff are projecting that fewer people will actually want to use the new line. The new report states that the subway will only attract 2,300 new daily riders. That means that the City would be paying approximately $1.45 million for every new rider that the stop gains.
The competing plans that will be debated at Council next week are the same as when I wrote to you about it in a newsletter last July. A 1-stop subway to the Scarborough Town Centre (STC), as shown below:
Or, for approximately the same City funding, we can choose instead to build 2 LRT lines with 24 stops. One line would have 7 stops using the existing RT corridor to link STC and Centennial College to Kennedy Station. This project is part of the signed Metrolinx Master Agreement, and would be mostly funded by the provincial government. Then, with money saved by moving forward now with the approved LRT, Council could fund a new 17-stop extension of the Eglinton Crosstown through Kennedy, serving Kingston Rd, UofT Scarborough, and several neighbourhoods in between.
I have included this picture of the proposed Centennial College station as a reminder that the 7-stop LRT will go through its own corridor on trains that have the same top speed as a subway (80 km/h).
Unfortunately, the Mayor and some others have declared a "war" over this issue to justify the unjustifiable. They have falsely stated that those wanting a larger network of LRTs for Scarborough have delayed the process.
In fact, providing rapid transit to Scarborough has only been delayed by Council's flip flop from a fully-funded LRT to a 3-stop and then 1-stop subway. The changing and uncertain subway costs and plans are the reason the issue keeps coming back to Council. Assertions otherwise are disingenuous.
Another specious argument put forward by 1-stop subway proponents is that only a subway stop will stimulate economic development at STC. That is a falsely exclusive causal relationship. While a subway stop could help support growth at STC, so would an LRT line. The LRT would actually provide 2 stops in the projected growth precinct. That's one of the reasons why our Chief Planner previously stated that an LRT, rather than a subway, would better stimulate economic development, while also serving more low-income residents as well as students:
(If you are unable to access the video by clicking on the above picture, you can access it through this link)
Asking for the Facts
I have submitted several questions regarding transit options for Scarborough that need to be clarified before Council votes next week. It is very concerning that, at a council meeting last July, City Council may have been falsely led to believe that the LRT would take longer to build than it actually would. In addition, there are several basic questions remaining with regard to the 1-stop subway proposal's funding and ridership. Regardless of what transit plan Council chooses, it is important that the decision be made honestly and based on evidence rather than political interests.
I want Scarborough residents, along with all Torontonians, to have access to rapid transit to improve the quality of their lives.
I have included my full communication to the City Manager below for your review. It is also included in next week's City Council agenda:
March 21, 2017
City Manager's Office
11th Floor, East Tower, City Hall
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
Dear Mr. Wallace,
Questions Re: Transit Options for Scarborough
As you know, transit plans in Scarborough have gone through a number of iterations. A 7-stop, traffic-separated LRT was initially approved in 2007, and reconfirmed several times, including the "MOU Plan" between former Mayor Ford and Metrolinx, as shown in the March 31, 2011 Ontario government press release below:
The project, along with 3 other LRT lines in Toronto, was reconfirmed on February 8, 2012 at a Special Meeting of Council.
The shift to a subway in Scarborough was first approved as a 3-stop subway in October of 2013 for $3.56 billion. The plan significantly changed on January 28, 2016 when Staff presented a 1-stop subway just to Scarborough Town Centre and a 17-stop eastern extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT for approximately the same funding as the previous 3-stop plan, as stated on page 3 of EX 11.5 – Scarborough Transit Planning Update:
"Initial estimates indicate it is possible to construct the extension of Line 2 and the Crosstown East for a similar order-of-magnitude cost and in a similar timeframe as the three-stop Scarborough Subway extension originally proposed."
Unfortunately, the estimated price of the subway, excluding financing and other costs, has risen by more than 50%, leaving the 17-stop Crosstown extension unfunded. At the upcoming Council meeting of March 28, 2017, Council will, for the first time, have an opportunity to decide whether to proceed with a 1-stop extension of the Bloor Danforth subway for $3.346 Billion as identified in EX 23.1 Next Steps on the Scarborough Subway Extension.
I am submitting the following questions as there are several significant matters pertaining to this item that require clarification before Council makes a decision on the future of transit in Scarborough.
The Master Agreement between Metrolinx, the City of Toronto, and the TTC signed in 2012 stated that the Province would pay 100% of the capital costs associated with the Scarborough LRT as shown in the excerpt below from page 1 of Schedule G in the Master Agreement:
Question: Is the Master Agreement between Metrolinx, the City of Toronto, and the TTC still valid?
The business case analysis before Council only provides a relative comparison between two 1-stop subway options.
Question: Has the City ever provided a business case analysis that directly compared the subway extension (3 or 1-stop version) with the 7-stop LRT in Scarborough?
Transit Project Construction Issues
On July 4, 2016 a briefing note produced by the TTC (Attachment 1) appeared on CP24 regarding the possibility of moving forward with a 7-stop LRT from Kennedy to Sheppard, serving the existing RT route along with Centennial College and Sheppard. The contents of the briefing note were cited numerous times by Staff and Councillors during the Council meeting of July 12, 2016. This briefing note has still not been publicly posted on the website of the TTC or the City of Toronto.
The briefing note makes a number of assertions regarding the construction of the 7-stop LRT that require clarification prior to the upcoming Council meeting.
First, the briefing note assumes that the start of LRT construction would have to wait until work on the Eglinton Crosstown was completed at Kennedy. However, as the excerpt below from an April 25, 2012 Metrolinx Board Report states, Metrolinx was explicitly planning to start at the north end of the line first to speed up construction time:
Question: Was the City/TTC aware of new information that would prohibit starting to build the Scarborough LRT at the north end of the line to expedite the construction process?
Further, an excerpt from page 1 of the same 2012 Metrolinx Board Report, shown below, states that, at the time, the Eglinton Crosstown was expected to be completed in 2020 and the Scarborough LRT's completion date was 2019:
While the completion dates have changed, these construction timelines required that work occur simultaneously at Kennedy Station to facilitate both projects. As depicted in the diagram below, the Eglinton Crosstown was to occupy the below-grade platform, while the Scarborough LRT would enter at-grade.
The briefing note states that, as a result of the Eglinton Crosstown, the Scarborough LRT is "physically precluded" at Kennedy Station without mentioning that space below-grade would now be available for the Scarborough LRT platform, further improving the transfer to the Bloor-Danforth subway.
Question: Is the City/TTC aware of a reason why Metrolinx would not be able to construct platforms at Kennedy Station for both the Eglinton Crosstown and the Scarborough LRT, as was originally planned, but with the platform levels for the two projects switched?
There have been several concerning inconsistencies regarding the stated level of design completion for both the 7-stop Scarborough LRT and the 1-stop subway that require clarification before Council votes later this month.
During the Questions to Staff portion of the debate on EX 16.1 Developing Toronto's Transit Network Plan to 2031 at the July 12, 2016 Council meeting, Councillor Colle asks the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B, a question on the design completion status of the Scarborough LRT (scroll to the 4hr:45min mark of this video to view):
Councillor Colle: "There's been a lot of discussion around, uh, the percentage of where we are, at design for various projects, and we were told recently for the, call it, 2008-9-10 LRT that that's at about 5 per cent design? Or it was at that time? Is that a fair number?"
DCM: "So, um, Madam Speaker, ah, we've had some discussions as a follow-up. Some elements are at 5 and some are at 10 per cent. That was the information we got from Metrolinx the other day."
The Deputy City Manager's response is seemingly at odds with the information presented by Metrolinx in the April 2012 Board Report included above (Fig. 3), which states that the longest portion of the line, between Kennedy and McCowan, was at 30% design completion.
Question: Did Metrolinx provide City Staff with information regarding the design completion status of the Scarborough LRT that contradicted their April 2012 Board Report, which claimed that the Kennedy to McCowan portion of the line was at the 30% design stage?
During the same question period, Councillor Colle asks a follow-up question about the design completion status of the 1-stop subway extension to Chief Project Manager for the Scarborough Subway Extension:
Councillor Colle: "And where would the subway be at design percentage of design completion? Around 5 (per cent) I think I've heard?"
Chief Project Manager: "Uh, we're currently at about 5 per cent, yes."
The Chief Project Manager's answer is reinforced by the chart below from the Staff report presented at the July 2016 Council meeting which states that the cost estimate provided was "developed at approximately 5% design":
A similar chart included in the Staff Report before Council later this month states that the 1-stop subway extension is still at 5% design.
Question: Given that there has been significant work done on the 1-stop Scarborough Subway Extension between July 2016 and March 2017, why is the project design status not moved beyond the 5% completion status cited in July 2016?
Funding Source Issues
There are a number of unanswered questions regarding funding sources for the 1-stop Scarborough Subway Extension that require clarification prior to Council voting on the issue.
The chart below provides a breakdown of the funding sources for the subway extension:
Recommendation 6 in the Staff report that contains the above chart reads:
City Council request the Province of Ontario and Government of Canada confirm the sources of funding for the provincial and federal commitments to the Scarborough Subway Extension.
The wording of this recommendation raises a number of questions regarding the degree to which Council can depend on the funding amounts indicated, including:
Question: Has the City determined whether the $660 million committed by the previous federal government will be considered a separate contribution under the Build Canada Fund or will the City have to apply for the project under phase 2 of the Investing in Canada Fund, thereby decreasing the amount of funds available through this program? Will the contribution be escalated under either funding source?
Question: Has the City determined whether the provincial government has agreed to the $1.99 billion escalated contribution cited in Fig. 7? Has the provincial government agreed to transfer the full contribution all at once?
One of the proposed main advantages of the 1-stop subway extension, in comparison to the original LRT plan, is the elimination of the transfer at Kennedy station. The main benefit of the elimination of the transfer is a faster travel time downtown. As shown below in the map from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey, downtown travel accounts for 23% of all transit trips that begin in Scarborough:
Also evident in the map is that few riders from Scarborough get off the subway at destinations along the Bloor-Danforth line prior to the core.
As depicted in the rapid transit map below, it would appear that Scarborough commuters going downtown would have a much faster ride on SmartTrack/GO RER.
Question: How many riders during the AM peak and throughout the day are predicted to transfer to and from SmartTrack/GO RER at Kennedy Station?
Thank you for your attention in these matters. I look forward to responses that provide me and my colleagues with adequate time to review.
Toronto City Councillor
Ward 22- St. Paul's
Date: June 29, 2016
Issues Relating to Re-introduction of LRT Replacement for Line 3 (SRT)
The original proposal - to replace the aging Line 3 Scarborough (SRT) with a 7-stop LRT line, extending to Sheppard Avenue East, is shown in the attached schematic. This note summarises the primary tasks that would have to be undertaken in the event that the LRT solution was re-introduced. It is intended to assist in the event of any questions on this matter at City Council. It is important to note that these figures are estimates only and have been escalated, as noted below.
The Environmental Assessment (EA) that was approved for the LRT project in 2010 must be updated, and formally amended, to address the following elements:
- Complete Redesign of the EA-Approved LRT Connection at Kennedy Station: The most complex aspect of the conceptual design work on the LRT was the connection at Kennedy Station. The recommended solution, shown in the attachments in plan and cross-section views, consisted of a large one-way LRT loop with the LRT station directly on top of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (ECLRT) station. As Metrolinx’s plans for the ECLRT were finalised after Council approved subway technology in October 2013, they did not make any provision to protect for the LRT connection. This LRT connection is now physically precluded by the current ECLRT plans and an entirely new design would have to be developed.
- New Ridership Forecasts: As with the subway extension, ridership forecasts for the LRT would have to be updated using the City’s new forecasting model and reflect changes in the transit network in Scarborough. This would include Smart Track/RER - with several options re service frequency and assumed level of fare integration – and options with and without the Sheppard East LRT and the easterly extension of the ECLRT.
- Review Potential Conflicts with GO/RER: A new design concept for a Lawrence LRT station must be developed that incorporates the current plans for a Smart Track Station at Lawrence Avenue. In addition to identifying and resolving any issues at Lawrence Station, the LRT plans would have to reviewed with Metrolinx to and identify and resolve any conflicts as the running structure is in the same corridor.
- Assess LRT Maintenance and Storage Facility (MSF) Options: Subject to confirmation of a consistent maintenance/operating/ownership model for three LRT lines in Scarborough, an adequate location for MSF facility would have to be identified. This could mean an interim solution (eg. a Bellamy yard was included in the original LRT EA) with a future consolidation at the previously planned Sheppard/Conlins yard.
- Closure of Line 3: finalise plans for the bus replacement service when Line 3 is shut down, including the associated temporary bus terminals and storage facility.
- Re-examine Bus Terminal Concepts at Stations: The previous number of bus bays to be confirmed for all stations.
vii) Update Schedule and Capital Cost
viii) EA Amendment Public Meeting: It is expected that at least one public meeting would be necessary as part of the process to amend the LRT EA.
From the point Council directs staff to proceed with an LRT solution, a very rough estimate would be that it would take approximately 12 to 18 months to present a revised plan to obtain Council and MOE approval. This is very much dependent upon the time required to identify, and obtain acceptance of, a new connection at Kennedy Station.
The construction at Kennedy Station is the key element on the critical path for the LRT and depending if the preferred design is above or below grade, construction could range from approximately 3.5 to 5 years. If staff are directed to proceed in July 2016 and assuming construction cannot begin before the ECLRT work at Kennedy is completed in 2021, a quick preliminary evaluation suggests the LRT could be operational in early 2026 to late 2027.
With the change in technology, confirmation of contributions from funding partners may be required.
Order of Magnitude Comparison
The October 2013 Council report indicated the Province had announced $1.8B ($2010) for construction of SRT as LRT, to Sheppard. Of the $1.8B, the Province committed $1.48B ($2010) to the SSE. As a minimum, staff believe the $1.8B should be the starting point, which would have to be updated through proper design to address the changes noted above.
The $1.48B has recently been reported as the total cost of a seven stop LRT. To facilitate a high level cost comparison of the current subway estimate to the costs of an LRT at this time, the $1.8B was escalated to an end of 2025 opening (2% per year from 2011 to 2013 and 4% per year from 2014 to mid-2023), adding SRT Life Extension and SRT Shutdown service.
$1.8B escalated $2.7B
SRT Life Extension .108
SRT Shutdown .171
Rick Thompson, Chief Project Manager, Scarborough Subway Extension
This week, Council will decide whether to proceed with Mayor Tory’s revised SmartTrack plan as Toronto’s top transit priority. Since the release of the Staff Report, the mayor has received a great deal of criticism for not fulfilling his campaign promise of delivering 22 stations in 7 years with the City’s funding portion completely paid for by Tax Increment Financing (TIF). As I’ve written previously, I commend Mayor Tory for accepting that the Western Spur (new heavy rail line to the airport) portion of his plan is unworkable. As your councillor, the question I’m considering now is whether or not the plan as presented this week is well thought out, reflects Toronto residents’ priorities for transit, has a transparent financing plan and is worth a large investment of your money.
The new SmartTrack plan consists of 6 stations added in Toronto to the Province’s GO Regional Electrified Rail (RER) plan and, in lieu of the Western Spur, a western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (this was part of the earlier “Transit City” Plan). The cost of both projects is $3.7 billion – it is estimated that Toronto is responsible for $2 billion of that total cost.
Additional RER Stations
The Province’s RER plan entails electrifying existing GO tracks, which facilitates new trains that can stop and start much faster than the current diesel trains. This technology makes it feasible to add stations to a line and provide more frequent service. As depicted in the map above, the province is already providing a number of stations in Toronto. Council will consider funding additional stations at St. Clair West, Liberty Village, East Harbour (Unilever site), Gerrard, Lawrence East and Finch East.
While I support the concept of better utilizing existing GO lines to serve Toronto’s transit needs, there is simply not enough information in the staff report provided to Council to determine whether these 6 stations are a good investment. There was a fairly detailed reportpresented to Council in July 2016 that looked at several scenarios for adding additional GO RER stations but none of the scenarios modeled match what’s being put forward now. The report supporting the current plan does not provide ridership projections or apply a social equity lens to determine the demographics of the users. There is no analysis of development potential or even how much it will cost to build each station. It is not yet known how frequently the trains will run or whether accessing trains at these stations will require a TTC or GO level fare. This missing information is necessary to reasonably assess any transit project.
All that Council was provided was a lump sum, preliminary cost for the stations and a basic overview of some design issues at each station.
Eglinton Crosstown West Extension
As shown in the map above, the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension is a continuation of the line currently under construction to at least Renforth Drive in Etobicoke, on Toronto’s municipal boundary with Mississauga. And the at least part is the problem.
The Staff report requests $420 million from the City of Mississauga and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority to cover the cost of the line in their respective jurisdictions. This request was met with surprise and anger by the local mayor and councillors, placing a connection to Pearson in doubt.
I have long been a supporter of extending the Crosstown further west but the utility of the extension is greatly diminished if the line stops short of the airport. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat stated last week that, while the line travels through relatively low-density areas with limited development potential in Etobicoke, reasonable ridership would be generated by the Airport Corporate Centre office district and the airport itself. Both of these trip generators would not be directly connected if the line stopped at Renforth.
Also absent from this report is any context regarding where these lines fit into Toronto’s transit network. The City’s Planning Division spent years developing the Feeling Congested framework to assess the utility of transit projects.
Top 5 Performing Rapid Transit Projects
A. Relief Line (subway)
N. Scarborough Malvern LRT
R. Waterfront West LRT
V. Waterfront East LRT
Next 5 Top Performing Rapid Transit Projects
C. Durham-Scarborough BRT
K. Jane LRT
P. Steeles LRT/BRT West
W. Relief Line East Extension
(Source: City Planning)
The above map shows the rankings of proposed transit lines using City Planning’s evaluation criteria. The Eglinton Crosstown West Extension is the 7th ranked project and additional GO RER stations aren’t considered.
If Staff are, in effect, recommending that SmartTrack be built ahead of other projects that were deemed to perform better, such as the Relief Line, some explanation needs to be provided.
Equally concerning as the lack of information on the plan itself, is the absence of a clear funding strategy. Even more concerning are some of the financing mechanisms put forward in the Staff report.
Tax Increment Financing
During the 2014 Mayoral campaign, John Tory pledged to fund the city’s portion of SmartTrack entirely through a mechanism never before used in Ontario called Tax Increment Financing(TIF). Under a TIF, infrastructure is funded by capturing property tax revenue in the area surrounding the new asset that presumably wouldn’t have been created without the initial investment.
(Professor Kevin Ward, Dept of Geography, University of Manchester)
A public investment in a new stadium on a greenfield site (for example, the Canadian Tire Centre where the Senators play in Kanata outside Ottawa) is a classic example of how, if employed, a TIF might have had merit. In this example, a TIF may be a reasonable funding tool as any new restaurants, hotels, or souvenir stores in close proximity could reasonably be attributed to the stadium. The idea is that, over time, the government recoups its investment from the new property tax revenue at no cost to municipal ratepayers. As well, the municipal services required in the area could be minimal if it is largely commercial.
(Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, Ontario)
Using a TIF to fund SmartTrack, however, is deeply problematic.
The City proposes the establishment of TIF zones around certain stations built as part of SmartTrack. Analysis by Strategic Regional Research Associates (SRRA), under contract by the City, states that 23,737 new condo units and almost 11 million sq/ft of new office space will be built between 2017 and 2042 as a direct result of SmartTrack. The preliminary recommendation of Staff is to capture 50% of the property tax, estimated at $950 million over 25 years, generated by this growth through TIF to fund SmartTrack.
The SRRA report attached to the City’s staff report, however, was produced in January 2016 using the 22 stop version of SmartTrack instead of the pared down version now being considered. The assumptions underpinning the new projections have not been included for consideration. Residents and Council cannot even assess where SRRA are suggesting the new growth will occur.
Based on the January report, one can reasonably assume that most of the growth projected will occur in the sites close to downtown, such as the Unilever site and Liberty Village. In these high growth areas, it is dubious to attribute new development to the introduction of a station. Liberty Village, for example has no problem attracting growth, is almost built out in the residential section, and much of the employment-designated area in the western portion has heritage protection which limits development opportunities. The residents of Liberty Village desperately need new transit because of the density that already exists. To suggest that significant new growth will occur as a result of that needed transit does not match up with the reality on the ground.
A report on the use of TIFs in Chicago by the Cook County Assessor’s Office found that the financing tool was ineffective:
“Despite the extensive use of TIFs in Chicago there is little empirical evidence of the effectiveness of TIFs in promoting economic growth, while there is some indication that they benefit disproportionately from already occurring growth.”
Even if new growth could be directly attributed to SmartTrack, capturing 50% of the new property tax specifically for a transit project will require the city to find commensurate funds to provide services for the projected residential communities. Unlike in the previous greenfield arena example, residential development requires libraries, community centres, parks, child care, and other basic amenities that contribute to our quality of life. Former City Manager Joe Pennachetti stated that TIFs are the “same thing” as a property tax increase in an article on TIFs by Daniel Dale in the Toronto Star during the 2014 election.
City Staff have sequenced the project using a “Stage Gate” process that offers Council several points at which it can opt to not continue with SmartTrack. The project is currently in Stage Gate 3, but as previously mentioned, the public is still missing basic information.
I have no doubt the Stage Gate process could have potential benefits for the management of large transit projects but, in this instance, key pieces are moving forward without critical information. Nowhere is this more evident than in the timing of the funding plan. The Staff recommendation states that a firm funding strategy will only be provided after Council completely commits to the project in Stage Gate 5:
“18. City Council direct the Deputy City Manager and Chief Financial Officer to:
…report back to Council with the implementation of this recommended strategy once the capital cost estimates have been refined to a Class 3 level and Council confirms its definitive commitment to the project.”
It is absurd to suggest that the City would obligate itself to invest billions of dollars into a project with no idea how it will be funded.
To further complicate matters, the Province has given the City until November 30, 2016 to decide whether it wants to commit to $71 million in pre-construction work, including planning analysis and property acquisitions, related to the 6 additional GO RER stations. As well, Council is being asked to assume liability for an unidentified amount of sunk costs to be paid to Metrolinx if the City decides at a later date that the project is not worth pursuing.
While I’m unclear as to the reasons why this incomplete report was only provided last week, despite Metrolinx notifying the City in June of the deadline, the result is that Council has been put in an unreasonable position. Either we blindly commit the City to a project with little information or forego a potentially worthwhile transit investment for Torontonians.
On the whole, I believe this to be an even worse process than the one that resulted in Council choosing the One-Stop subway in Scarborough. I’m not suggesting that the SmartTrack project itself is worse, but there was far more information available, as often misleading and incomplete as it was, to the public and Council during the Scarborough transit debate. Prior to the unfortunate Scarborough vote, there was at least a transparent funding plan in addition to some, albeit imperfect, planning analysis. While the report before us this week at Council is named Transit Network Plan Update and Financial Strategy, there actually is no clear and transparent financing strategy included in the document.
The SmartTrack report does not provide the mayor or Council with sufficient information to make an informed decision, given the money and resources being requested.
Some have suggested a distracting and simplistic narrative: that we should simply build anything, just build it. That you're either for transit or against it. That anyone who raises legitimate concerns about SmartTrack is a “Debbie or Douglas Downer” and only looks for ways to say “no” rather than “yes”. I believe most Torontonians see through that rhetoric and are more thoughtful than that. I also don't believe that that messaging is fair to those who are raising reasonable and sincere questions and/or concerns.
In fact, that kind of binary decision-making is why we’re still subsidizing the woefully underused Sheppard subway and led us to proceed with spending over $3 billion for one subway stop in Scarborough when there was a demonstrably better option on the table.
I share Toronto residents’ frustration about the lack of progress on public transit over many decades. Far too often, politics has come before people when it comes to transit planning and the decisions made. I want our city to focus on relieving the existing overcrowding on our subway, bus and streetcar lines and expand out rapid transit network to truly connect Toronto's neighbourhoods. Ultimately, many residents will continue to be reliant on their cars until we finally have a transit system that is accessible, affordable and actually gets people where they need to go.
On your behalf, I will continue to advocate that we move forward now on building transit that’s based on evidence and Toronto’s real and pressing needs, with honest and transparent financing strategies.
Read this in-depth Toronto Star series on how the Ontario Municipal Board wields its unelected power over a city crunched for resources: Contested Development.
The OMB is a quasi-judicial, un-elected and un-accountable provincial body that has the final say on all planning decisions in the province of Ontario. The tribunal's powers to overrule decisions made by our elected municipal representatives are anti-democratic and often lead to planning decisions that far too often support the interests of the development industry over those of our communities and our city's official plan.
Since the establishment of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) in 1906—initially as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board—it has evolved from an approval authority into an appeal body in matters of land use planning. However, the term "appeal" is misleading as the OMB treats appeals of municipal planning decisions to the OMB as "de novo", or new, giving little deference to the rulings of democratically elected City Councils.
It is wrong that our elected local representatives and professional planners in Toronto are overruled by appointed OMB members who generally have only a vague understanding of our city and the fabric and character or our local neighbourhoods.
The OMB contributes to Inappropriate Development
Toronto's midtown neighbourhoods are facing an unprecedented number of development applications. While our community understands that a reasonable amount of intensification is appropriate, developers are proposing new condominiums that are too high and dense for the neighbourhood and, in many cases, appealing to the OMB at the first opportunity.
The provincial government is mandating higher densities in areas such as Yonge & Eglinton but they are not taking into consideration the added stress on fully-enrolled schools, a need for affordable childcare and recreation facilities, public realm, the narrow streets and sidewalks and an already over-crowded subway system, and much more that affects our quality of life. The local context is lost at the OMB.
The OMB Unfairly Favours Developers
The current OMB hearing process is too cumbersome, too expensive, too time-consuming and too legalistic to facilitate wide-ranging citizen participation and is therefore unfair to the local residents as well as the community at large. Deep-pocketed developers can hire the best lawyers, planners and other experts to argue their case. They don't need to worry about taking days off work and the funds needed to argue a case is miniscule in comparison to the windfalls they reap from selling condos.
It's no wonder that a 2009 study found that developers come out on top 64% of the time when facing municipalities. That number is even more advantageous for developers when facing residents' groups without support from their city government. And if the developer loses they can simply appeal again and face a local group that is likely exhausted both financially and emotionally.
The OMB is a Drain on City Resources
Toronto is a rapidly growing city as anybody that lives in midtown can attest to.
Our city's professional planning staff should be spending their time directing, managing growth and implementing our city's official plan. We want our planners to design complete neighbourhoods with access to transit, vibrant retails strips, green space and social services. Unfortunately, too much of their time is spent defending appeals by developers at the OMB.
It takes a planner many days of preparation time for every one day of an OMB hearing. Further, they have to write long, overly technical planning reports in case they are called before the board to defend their professional opinions.
And it is not only planners that are taken away from serving the City's needs by the OMB. City lawyers must spend the equivalent of 1,400 days a year to prepare for, and attend, OMB hearings. City forestry, transportation, technical services staff and others are forced to waste valuable time as well.
The cost to Toronto in both staff time and salary is just too great to justify the OMB continuing to have jurisdiction over our city.
Our elected City Councillors should be responsible, and accountable, for decisions regarding municipal planning. They have the benefit of ongoing engagement with the communities they represent, and extensive knowledge of local issues, opinions and needs on which they base decisions. City Councillors and the planning staff's ability to plan is undermined if applicants calculate that it is in their interests to treat City processes as a mere formality en route to the OMB.
In February of 2012 a motion moved by Toronto City Councillors Josh Matlow (Ward 22 - St. Paul's) and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27 – Toronto Centre Rosedale) asked for the removal of provincial oversight on planning matters. This motion was overwhelmingly supported by Toronto's City Council by a 34-5 vote. Countless Residents' and Ratepayers' associations also wrote letters standing behind this initiative.
Please write to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing as well as your local MPP and tell them:
- The OMB is allowing inappropriate growth without adequate infrastructure to support it
- The OMB unfairly favours developers over local residents
- The OMB is an unnecessary drain on City tax dollars
- Toronto is the largest municipal government in Canada. Our City has the largest and most professional planning department in the country
- It's time for the provincial government to respect Toronto
- It's time to free Toronto from the OMB!
Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
777 Bay Street, 17th Floor
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5
Contacting Your Local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP)
Toronto has 22 MPPs who sit in the provincial legislature at Queen's Park. It is important to let your local MPP know that the OMB is an important issue to you.
If you don't know the name of your MPP or your local electoral district, you can search by postal code here. You are also very welcome to write or call me (at 416 392 7906) for assistance contacting your local MPP.
Review of powerful appeals body aims to give more consideration to local planning process.
October 5, 2016
The Toronto Star
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, whose department oversees the Ontario Municipal Board, said there is little agreement on how best to reform the land use planning process in the province but that it should centre on “healthy, sustainable and safe” communities. (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
The province is proposing putting new limits on the controversial and powerful appeals body that oversees land use in Ontario.
After launching a review of the Ontario Municipal Board earlier this summer, Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro said Wednesday the review will address criticism that the board often ignores planning decisions made at the local level.
“We are going to try as best we’re able through the proposed changes that we’re putting forward to show more deference for local, municipal decision-making,” Mauro said at a news conference at Queen’s Park.
The quasi-judicial OMB — which hears disputes on everything from monster homes to developers’ proposals for tall buildings that ignore city planning guidelines — has long been the bane of communities and councils.
It is one of the most powerful appeal bodies of its kind in North America, with the ability to hear appeals as if they were new proposals and to overturn council decisions — allowing developers to circumvent the process of community consultation, review by city planning staff and approval by elected city councils.
In the 10 years since the last OMB reforms — changes that asked the board to “have regard” for local councils and communities — politicians of all leanings and residents have called those efforts insincere.
In Toronto, which is experiencing unprecedented growth in urban centres, councillors have long called for meaningful reform and, frequently, abolishing the board altogether.
Mauro made clear the province would not look at scrapping the OMB, but said the province is taking the review “very seriously.”
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, whose department oversees the OMB, said there is little agreement on how best to reform the land use planning process but that it should centre on “healthy, sustainable and safe” communities.
“Communities that provide a high quality of life don’t just happen. They’re carefully thought out and developed. They can support the needs of current and future residents,” he said. “The status quo is not working.”
Toronto councillors representing quickly growing neighbourhoods — in some cases areas that have already surpassed the province’s growth plan — have started ringing alarm bells about the strain on communities.
“It’s about quality of life,” Councillor Josh Matlow, who represents part of the Yonge-Eglinton area, told council in July. “The streetscape, the playgrounds, the parks, the recreation, the child care, the schools — the things that, no matter how big we become, how do we support our communities with the soft and the hard infrastructure that supports building a community rather than just a bunch of condos?”
A consultation paper released Wednesday is meant to guide discussions after initial feedback from cities and other stakeholders.
The province’s proposals for reform include:
- Only allow the OMB to hear appeals on the “validity of the decision” by council, limiting the OMB’s ability to hear appeals and completely overturn decisions.
- Preventing appeals of secondary plans, which are neighbourhood-specific plans, for two years.
- Requiring the OMB to send “significant new information” arising from a hearing back to councils for re-evaluation before rendering a decision.
- More actively promoting mediation to settle disputes, preventing adversarial hearings.
- Better training OMB members, who are appointed by the province.
The province will hold town hall meetings, the dates for which have yet to be announced. Consultation will end Dec. 19. Mauro said the hope is to have new legislation by the spring.
To read this article in its original form, please visit: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2016/10/05/province-proposes-limiting-powers-of-ontario-municipal-board.html
August 25, 2016
Parks and Environment Committee
Re: Yellow Creek / Vale of Avoca Master Plan
Dear Chair and Committee Members,
The Yellow Creek and Vale of Avoca areas are beloved parts of Ward 27 and 22. In an urban environment, such green spaces represent a precious resource; offering recreation for residents, a natural habitat for wildlife and an abundance of plant diversity. The area also houses vital infrastructure including sewer lines, stairs, bridges and other public facilities.
In past years this vale and watercourse has been a source of pride for the local community, hosting picnics and hikes, and boasting a beautiful rose garden. Unfortunately, the park is now challenged in many ways. Flooding and overflow has contributed to bank degradation, erosion, washed out bridges and impassable trails. The public's access has been restricted due to broken stairs, closed access points and many areas made dangerous due to tree fall. Yellow Creek itself has been polluted by spills, causing further degradation to the Vale; an area designated as Environmentally Significant by Parks, Forestry and Recreation
With the recognition that a geomorphic study of Yellow Creek, is to be conducted by Toronto Water for 2017, the local community has stepped forward to ask that City divisions come together to address the multiple pressing needs of this Environmentally Significant Area. While the pending Ravine Strategy is a positive step towards increasing collaboration on such projects - and we are willing to work with the City to advance its goals - the need in the Vale of Avoca is pressing and immediate.
In order to protect and restore the Vale of Avoca, we believe it is necessary to create a Master Plan that integrates the budgets, construction schedules, and communication plans of the various invested divisions and their overlapping responsibilities. Such a plan will serve to create a model that will be useful in application to similarly distressed natural areas, and will be supportive of the Ravine Strategy's larger goals. We therefore recommend the following:
Request the Deputy City Manager of Cluster A to report to the February 2017 meeting of the Parks and Environment Committee on the feasibility and process to develop a Master Plan for the Yellow Creek and Vale of Avoca area that:
a. includes an inventory and state of good repair of existing facilities;
b. considers past and current plans, assessments and studies
c. coordinates the planning for future work of Toronto Water, Transportation, Parks, Forestry, Natural Environments, and the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority and other divisions and agencies;
d. ensures that the Master Plan identifies relationships and responsibilities for the implementations and maintenance of planned improvements; and
e. establishes a working group comprised of relevant community stakeholders to identify areas of priority community concern.
Josh Matlow Kristyn Wong-Tam
Toronto City Councillor Toronto City Councillor
Ward 22 – St. Paul's Ward 27 – Toronto Centre-Rosedale
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