Councillor Josh Matlow

The Grid: Four reasons why we wouldn’t miss the OMB

November 11, 2011


Last Tuesday, Councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam introduced a motion at the Planning and Growth Committee meeting to do away with the Ontario Municipal Board. (Mississauga beat us to the punch by introducing a similar motion in June.) The committee voted unanimously in favour of asking the province to remove the OMB’s power over development approvals in the city.


The OMB, a quasi-judicial tribunal set up by the province, hears applications and appeals on zoning issues, municipal and planning disputes, and development charges. Its supporters believe it combats NIMBYism in the city; critics worry it’s too cozy with developers and call it un-democratic for overriding city-council decisions.


Sure, the OMB wisely ruled against a developer’s dream of building a massive Smart Centre in Leslieville, but it’s made a host of decisions that have riled neighbourhood associations and heritage groups in just about every corner of the city. Here’s a look back at some OMB decisions that pissed off Torontoians:


1. Do you prefer Injustice Way or OMB Folly Lane?

The plan: A 36-unit complex of townhouses near Yonge St. and Finch Ave.


The problem: Locals didn’t want the development on their doorstep and Councillor Filion and city planning staff were against it. In 2004, city council rejected the developer’s application since the area, falling outside the North York Centre development area, wasn’t zoned for intensification. The developer asked OMB to appeal the decision.


The decision: In 2005, the OMB sided with the developer, saying the plan was appropriate for the site and fit well into the neighbourhood.


The aftermath: When the issue of naming the development’s new street came up in council, Councillor Filion first thought of suggesting “Injustice Way,” but that “would have failed to identify the perpetrator.” After suggesting “OMB Folly Lane” to North York community council, they approved it in 2008 with a a 7-2 vote; city council also initially voted in favour of it, 14-13. However, Mayor David Miller called the name “ridiculous” and council eventually re-considered in 2010. This past May, they chose the less vengeful Johnson Farm Lane.


2. The Bohemian Embassy vs. Queen West bohemians

The plan: In 2005, developers looked west along Queen Street West and saw dollar signs. A number of condos were proposed for the Queen West Triangle including the Bohemian Embassy, a two-building project with a cringe-inducing name.


The problem: Active 18, a neighbourhood group that opposed the “condo jungle,” was concerned by the influx of people in the low-rise neighbourhood and artists getting pushed out of the Art and Design District. A 120-year old warehouse at a 48 Abell Street, the site of homes and studios for a number of artists, would have to be demolished to make way for the condos.


The decision: In January 2007, the OMB opened the door to a development boom in the area by approving four high-rise towers and four 8-storey buildings in a three-block area.

The aftermath: Now completed, the Bohemian Embassy hasn’t exactly earned new admirers (it’s been called a “stinking pile of zit” among other things). Like The Drake Hotel before it, the condo complex has become a scapegoat for problems facing the neighbourhood such as rising rents and a clubland vibe. However, the news was not all bad: 190 units of affordable housing were slated for the nearby 180 Sudbury St. development.


3. Queen’s Park overshadowed

The plan: Menkes Developments’ proposal to build two 221- and 186-metre towers at 21 Avenue Rd., just north of Bloor St.


The problem: The view from down the street. Groups such as the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario argued the new buildings would spoil the site lines of the Queen’s Park legislature. Below College Street, looking north from University Avenue, the skyline of the Legislative buildings would be crowded by the new condos.


The decision: In May 2010, the OMB ruled in favour of the development. When the Official Opposition and the Speaker of the House, Steve Peters, asked the Liberal government to reverse the decision, the Province refused.


The aftermath: In early 2011, The Ontario Capital Precinct Working Group—made up of Paul Bedford, former Chief Planner of the City of Toronto, the Annex Residents’ Association, the Greater Yorkville Residents’ Association and architects such as Robert Allsopp and Catherine Nasmith—was formed to combat the decision. In April 2011, they started a letter-writing campaign to Premier Dalton McGuinty asking for legislation to protect the view of the silhouette of the buildings from being spoiled by new developments appearing in the background.


4. The Quarry Towers

The plan: Back in 1968, the former City of Scarborough approved plans to build apartments on a 49-acre former quarry and garbage dump near Clonmore Drive and Gerrard Street East. After four decades of false starts, the latest version of the plan involves 1,455 condo units in seven towers that will reach as high as 27 storeys.


The problem: Neighbourhood groups, like the Concerned Citizens of Quarry Lands Development, are riled by the massive size of the plan, saying it would overwhelm the neighbourhood of mostly single-family homes. In April 2010, over a thousand people gathered at the Birch Cliff Quarry Lands to protest the development.


The decision: In August 2010, the OMB granted a zoning application for the northeast corner of Gerrard Street East and Clonmore Drive.


The aftermath: The quarry lands have multiple owners: Build Toronto, a city agency, owns the adjacet lands to the area that the Conservatory Group has hold of and means to develop. There’s been talk of a land-swap, but negotiations seemed to have reached a standstill.


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