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939 Eglinton Ave. East decision – where do we go from here?

Shortly after DiamondCorp presented its development proposal for 939 Eglinton Ave. East to the community, I formed a working group in the hope of finding a more palatable option. The original 1,500-unit submission with four towers of 34, 24, 21 and 19 storeys was definitely not something I, and most Leaside residents, could accept.

While it is safe to say that midrise buildings (11 floors or fewer) were the preferred built form for the location, the reality was that we had two major challenges. Most importantly, the City Planning department’s Eglinton Connects Study identified this site (along with seven others along the forthcoming 19 km LRT line) as a location where greater heights and/or densities could be supported. Secondly, a precedent had been set years earlier when the 12-, 16- and 18-storey Scenic on Eglinton development (just east of Brentcliffe Rd.) was approved – well before any rapid transit.

The working group represented a cross-section of Leaside residents. It was not meant to speak for the community, rather to contribute ideas that could improve the development. This dedicated group addressed obvious issues such as height and density as well as less obvious ones like design: replacing the proposed glass and steel façade with red brick to better fit within the community context.

After seven months of collaboration and negotiation with DiamondCorp, the working group was presented with a drastically different proposal: one tower had been eliminated, the remaining three towers were reduced to 31, 20 and 14 storeys, residential units had dropped by over 30 per cent to under 1,000, overall density (GFA) was reduced from 5.27 to 3.99, and there was more brick and less glass. While the reaction wasn’t unanimous (most notably the LPOA representative had concerns) the general feeling was one of approval and in early October I held a meeting at the William Lea room to update the community.

Although the LPOA had yet to state an official positon, Stephen Diamond indicated that their negative feedback prompted him to appeal his original four-tower proposal to the OMB. However, from my discussions with him, I am confident that we can still negotiate a settlement closer to the working group proposal.

I base my decisions on community feedback – as well as a number of other considerations. As long as the OMB and not City Council is the final arbiter, we truly have to assess the risk when the result is most often loss of all negotiated concessions.

Despite our concerns, Leaside is on a growth path and we need to ensure sufficient services for all. Whether it’s a community swimming pool that isn’t constantly closed for repairs, more public meeting space, or accessible daycare, a key source of funds to provide these facilities is those negotiated through the development process. Pushing developers to take the fight to the OMB all but results in the forfeiture of those funds. DiamondCorp has offered $3 million in “Section 37” funding.

As a downtown councillor who is no friend to developers said to me, “When you decide to fight at the OMB, you’re a fighter, gambler or fool.”

Let me be clear, I am willing to stand up and fight at the OMB, just as we did in the case of 146-150 Laird where the developer was only prepared to reduce the height of one tower by one floor. However, each development has to be evaluated individually.

With 939 Eglinton Ave. East, we have two very different options: We can fight the original four-tower proposal at the OMB, or we can agree to the developer’s scaled down plans. A loss at the OMB potentially means an extra 34-storey tower, 500 additional units (1,000 residents) and the forfeiture of at least $3 million in Section 37 funds. While I still want to negotiate a reduction in the maximum height to under 30 floors and obtain additional Section 37 money, the stakes are too high to risk the fate of the community at the OMB.

You can reach me at councillor_burnside@toronto.ca