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A surging force fighting to save Leaside

Up in ArmsLeasiders have come out in force and in voice to a succession of community consultation meeting regarding private sector development applications in Leaside. In the past six months such meetings have included the following proposals:

  • a seven-storey seniors’ condominium and eight-storey rental retirement building at 146-150 Laird Dr.;
  • an eight-storey condominium on the west side of Bayview between Soudan and Hillsdale;
  • a proposed Costco on the Coca-Cola site north of Overlea (a meeting to consider additional parking);
  • a major development to replace and redevelop Sunnybrook Plaza with a twin-tower (19 and 13 storeys) condominium complex.

As well, applications have been submitted for two other proposals in the area: a major five-tower proposal along the west side of Brentcliffe between Eglinton and Vanderhoof and a nine-storey, 100-unit condominium at the corner of Southvale and the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens access road. Community meetings are expected to be called shortly for these two new applications.

Leaside faces major planning challenges and Leasiders are starting to take notice. It is noticeable when there is standing only room at the meetings? when there is no comment or question in support of the proposal from those in attendance? and when the questions are posed by a well-briefed, passionate and eloquent resident who has been here five years, not 25 years.

Yes, it is noticeable when there is a crop of new leaders like Kate Whitehead, Elaine Biddis and Connor Turnbull.

Kate Whitehead, who spoke forcefully at the Sunnybrook meeting, is a mother of three who lives on Bessborough in North Leaside and has started the Preserve Leaside group to (what else?) preserve Leaside character.

Elaine Biddis, an engineer, who also spoke at the meeting, has written and submitted a report, “Neighbourhood concerns with construction of the high rise condo at the NE corner of Bayview and Eglinton by Riocan”.

Connor Turnbull, however, is occupied not with the new developments on the main streets and avenues as much as the interior of the neighbourhood. Connor is an architectural historian, and mother of two who, coming to Toronto from San Francisco, was charmed by the small town character of Leaside.

Connor, together with Kim Auchinachie, co-chair of Leaside Matters, are part of a new group that aims to perpetuate and expand upon the legacy of the Leaside 100 group, with a mandate to support localism and preserve Leaside character. They are producing a booklet called The Cultural Heritage Landscape of Leaside (more on this next month), and a Leaside bag.

Well, you say ? there have been groups before, formed to fight development in Leaside. Whatever happened to Leaside Unite, which arose to fight the Smart Centres north development between Wicksteed and Vanderhoof on the east side of Laird?

Leaside Unite fought the good fight until they realised they could not win at the OMB, and they folded their tent into the LPOA. And the LPOA got three savvy new directors on its board.

Will this be different? We shall see, but it is clear that Leaside is becoming a militant community, and the ever vigilant LPOA is joined by other groups and individuals. The more the merrier I say!

The learning has been to get involved early and deeply in the planning process, in both the staff phase (the city planning staff report) and the political phase (when the report goes to city council).

Getting a negative (to the development) staff report means that if the proponent appeals then at least the city will be at the OMB. But if there is a supportive staff report, even if council votes against, the city will not be at the OMB, and the residents will have a tough time. We found that out at 2 Laird (the former post office site) — in spades.

So will the new militancy lead to a different outcome? We don’t know, but it is clear that right now the residents can work to balance the power scales, and they need to do this both by holding city staff to account and by letting the councillor know where they stand. This is democracy and deserves all of our support.

Of course there is a flaw to all these efforts to fight individual developments. That is that while many of us in Leaside were asleep, the city was passing special policies and zoning by-law amendments to allow new “by right” developments. Once this was approved the developers had a new floor on which to ask for much more.

In our area these special policies and re-zonings were made last summer as part of the Eglinton Connects plan for intensification along the Eglinton corridor:

  • special policies under the Official Plan facilitating mid-rise development around the Bayview-Eglinton intersection, and for townhouse development on the south side of Eglinton between Leaside High School and Hanna.
  • re-zonings to permit mixed-use, mid-rise development to a maximum of between 22.5 metres (seven storeys) and 25.5 metres (eight storeys) along Eglinton between Sutherland and Laird, and to a maximum of 25.5 metres (eight storeys) on the northeast corner of Laird and Eglinton.

The LPOA in its wisdom appealed these to the OMB, and now is being invited to pre-OMB hearing meetings with the city staff to discuss its concerns. The LPOA’s OMB appeals may turn out to be prescient, now with the private development applications, particularly those at Bayview (Sunnybrook Plaza) and Brentcliffe, looking egregious. The city’s actions appear, more and more, to be hasty and unwise.

So let’s rejoice for our new community activists, but let’s us also thank the LPOA for its continuing vigilance.