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Keesmaat: She left many feeling let down

Do Leasiders complain too much about traffic, or local mega-proposals for huge condominiums, or the impact of ever-expanding retail complexes?  As residents in the centre of a major city, should we be expected to just take these pressures on our community in stride and hope for the best? 

No. We all chose Leaside as our home for its quality of life, its family-friendly neighbourhood character, with safe tree-lined streets and good schools. We work together to do what we can to protect what is best about the community.

But because we face so many challenges it is also important to demonstrate to the city’s planners our determination to stand up for Leaside.

When Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat spoke at a meeting arranged by Councillor Jon Burnside in late November, the William Lea Room at Leaside Gardens was filled to overflowing with residents concerned about the future of our community.

There is no doubt that the city’s overall plans for a greener, more pedestrian-friendly urban environment are a positive move, but our part of the city looks pretty threatened.

Attendees were worried about Leaside being encircled by large developments like the one proposed for Sunnybrook Plaza, the high-rise complex proposed for 939 Eglinton East, and the possibility of large condo/retirement buildings along Laird Dr., not to mention the future traffic impact of condos, shops and office buildings on the 24-hectare Celestica site at Eglinton and Don Mills, when developed.

Leasiders do not welcome the density and the quantity of these development proposals. They are frustrated that the city’s planning process appears to look at each application individually, not in context, thus ignoring their overall impact.

Leasiders are frustrated and angry that developers can legally leapfrog over public opinion by appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board. When reminded that the provincial government has given the city the tools it needs to create a city-centric alternative to the OMB, Keesmaat was distinctly unenthusiastic about the idea, stating that the city’s record at the OMB is not that bad.

What we heard from Keesmaat was that change is coming, like it or not: we should negotiate change, rather than oppose it.

We were appreciative that the Chief Planner had come to this meeting, and we appreciated her frankness. But many left feeling let down. And when both she and a city solicitor who also addressed the meeting stated that, in many ways, City Planning’s hands are tied because the planning process is provincially mandated, some attendees wondered why, if that is the case, we should even bother to have a city planning department!

The very fact that the city’s Chief Planner witnessed such a large number of  involved and informed residents at this meeting is itself significant, and a very good sign. Thank you to everyone who attended. It was important to demonstrate – and we did – that Leasiders are determined to protect our community.

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A few words on traffic and traffic studies of the Leaside area. There are three studies either underway or about to begin.  They are covering traffic issues in different ways:

– The LPOA study is identifying long term permanent solutions to flow-through and speeding problems on our residential streets, concentrating on the post-LRT construction period. LPOA’s public meetings will begin early in the new year, to ask for your feedback and suggestions.

– Councillor Burnside’s North and South Leaside groups are looking at current flow-through problems, many of which are related to present LRT construction, for measures which can be adopted in the near future. They, too, are planning public meetings in the new year.

– Finally, a city-run traffic study will cover a larger area from Leslie through Overlea, with different terms of reference. Look for more details in future Leaside Life columns

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The LPOA board meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, at the Trace Manes building on Rumsey, by Leaside Library.  These meetings are open to the public, and we encourage you to attend, with questions, or issues you’d like advice on, or just to listen in. Our next meeting is on Wednesday, Jan. 6.