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No movie rescue for Leaside

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Remember the old movies of the past, featuring adventurous heroes who, captured by the bad guys, were chained to the wall of a small locked room? Water would be dripping down, soon to flood the room and drown our hero. Except that our hero was always rescued in the nick of time.

These days, we sometimes feel as if Leaside is experiencing something similar, but a rescue is not looking likely, and it’s not water dripping down on us: it’s one mega-development application after another. 660 Eglinton East (Sunnybrook Plaza). 939 Eglinton East (at Brentcliffe). And 815 Eglinton East at Laird (the Canadian Tire site), which has just filed with City Planning. Coming soon, the Celestica site at Eglinton and Don Mills. Recently approved by the Ontario Municipal Board, the large condominium and retirement home at 146-150 Laird Drive.

We’re surrounded by high density development proposals, most of which aim to create not just new communities but entire new satellite cities ringing Leaside.

Each of these proposed developments has been considered by City staff in isolation from the others, not cumulatively, whether it’s their potential impact on traffic flow on arterial roads, or on Leaside’s residential streets, or whether it’s a new development’s potential impact on local schools, or the potential demands on already insufficient infrastructure.

The usual justification cited by developers is that the City has to accommodate growth. So sayeth the provincial and City official plans. More and more people want to move into Toronto and they’ll need places to live. The expectation is that, if those places are built near public transit, fewer people will drive. Thus development continues to cluster around downtown and midtown areas such as Leaside.

Development need not mean over-intensification…in theory. Development in the right place can invigorate neighbourhoods, add value, provide more needed amenities and housing. In the wrong place, however, development can create more gridlock, diminish neighbourhoods’  desirability and character, overcrowd schools – given the state of Leaside’s schools, I’m tempted to say OVER-overcrowd  them – placing real stress on old and already insufficient sewer and road systems.

Perhaps we shouldn’t blame the developers: development, after all, is what they do. Maybe it’s the municipal planning department, which all too often is powerless to prevent inappropriate projects from going forward, one at a time, incrementally (drip, drip, drip) and City Council, which all too often can’t stop these developments because of the overriding power of the OMB. Each approval serves as a precedent for the next application, and the next one, and so on.

At the LPOA’s September board meeting, developer Stephen Diamond presented  his most recent design for 939 Eglinton East, with a reduced number of high rises and several rearranged features. It’s still much bigger and higher than Leasiders consider appropriate, based on their very clear response to the LPOA’S detailed survey done a few months ago and supported by Ward 26 Councillor Jon Burnside. More than 2,200 Leasiders took part.

We raised their concerns with Mr. Diamond. “We don’t plan by survey,” he replied. “After the democratic process, Council needs to make a decision. We have to accommodate growth.” If every planning application were decided by local surveys, nothing would ever get approved, he added.

In Leaside’s case, encircled and encroached by proposed developments, the City should be paying attention to neighbourhood opinions, not just telling us that we should get used to more and more building.

The City was supposed to have already undertaken a Laird Focus Area Study, which would guide future development by “providing direction on building heights, massing, and transition.” Where is it?

The LPOA feels that the City should honour this commitment, and that the study should take place before any more developments are approved for the area.

That would be good planning.

Save the date: Councillor Burnside is holding a public consultation meeting about the 939 Eglinton East development on the evening of Thursday, October 13, in the William Lea Room, Leaside Gardens.

The LPOA Board meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month  at Trace Manes Community Centre, 110 Rumsey Road. All Leaside residents are welcome to attend.

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