Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Ossington OPA: the OCA Responds Part II











A "truly charming" strip of Ossington that falls under the Area 2 of the draft OPA. Copyright 2012 Jessica Wilson.

With surprising speed, Jessica Wilson replied to my blog post (which was in response to an earlier e-mail about a draft OPA that's being discussed on the Ossington strip. Pheww!). It is reproduced below in it's entirety. I will not be replying to it with a new blog post, but will be sticking to the comments. If you wish to reply, please try and do so within the limits of Blogger's comments (4096 characters). As always, if you wish to write something longer, e-mail me at elarusic at gmail dot com; I won't likely be posting any full responses like Jessica's, but if there are some interesting comments I might turn them into a new blog post. 

As far as this round of the Ossington Draft OPA however, I will be moving onto other topics until at least there is more movement on that front. There's also the upcoming OMB case regarding 109Oz, and (fingers crossed) a story I'm writing about the Ossington neighbourhood, so this blog will likely be revisiting some of this issues below in the future. However, I know from e-mail experience that given the chance, myself and Jessica will keep replying en-mass to this topic! 

At the same time, I do think it's interesting to hear and read the arguments of a citizen who doesn't necessarily view the process from an "expert" viewpoint. It helps identify not only concerns we might overlook, but also helps highlight the gaps the profession still has in bridging the many divides between developers, the community, and planning.

Jessica was nice enough to summarize my comments, which I will highlight in green. She repeats one of her previous statements, as my previous post, her comment is highlighted in blue. 

Without further ado, I'll let Jessica speak from here!



Let me start by saying that I very much appreciate that Eddie has responded to the concerns the community has about Planning's Area 2 draft OPA principles, and given me the opportunity to discuss his responses in detail.

Readers interested in the reasons for and against allowing a block of mid-rise 20m/25m developments in the centre of the Ossington Strip are also directed to Planner Thomas Rees's response to the largecommunity opposition registered to the Area 2 principles, and Benj Hellie's (Ed note: the OCA's Corresponding/Communitation Secretary) comprehensive response to Rees.


1. In re the question of whether Ossington's zoning by-laws are "out of date"

Eddie says, "When I say that many zoning by-laws are "out of date" I mean that the zoning does not necessarily reflect was is "good planning". The majority of height and density limits are carryovers from over two decades ago. [...] To expect that planners got it "right" 25 years (or more!) ago is therefore a poor defense against reexamining zoning by-laws (ZBLs) in Toronto. Planning staff affirmed this at the draft OPA presentation earlier this month."

Response. We do not argue that the ZBLs on Ossington are up-to-date on grounds of an "expectation" that "planners got it "right" 25 years ago".  We agree with Eddie that the age of a given set of ZBLs doesn't in itself entail anything about whether the by-laws are "out of date".  So, for example, the majority of height and density limits in Paris are "carryovers from over two decades ago" but obviously that doesn't mean that these are out-of-date.

By Eddie's own lights, the question is then: why think that Ossington's height and density limits are "out of date" in the sense not just of being "old" (which in itself is irrelevant) but in reflecting poor planning?

Answer: there's no reason to think this, for the evidence is that these by-laws are working just fine.  First, the existing built form environment presently serves as the basis for a beloved community and a flourishing and internationally recognized destination district.  Second, Ossington has not outgrown the existing ZBLs---there is room to triple (at least) existing density within the existing limits.  Third, there is no OP-based motivation for thinking that the ZBLs are out-of-date, not just because Ossington is not targeted for intensification, but because the growth targets in the OP have already been met.  The suggestion that the ZBLs laws on Ossington are out-of-date in the "result from poor planning" sense is itself out of date!  More generally, it's completely unwarranted.

Correction: there is one way in which Ossington's current ZBLs are clearly out of date---namely, in failing to incorporate a 7.5m rear yard setback.  The 1986 by-laws require such a setback for mixed use areas zoned MCR, but not for those zoned CR, for reasons that are unclear to me.  Both the new draft Harmonized ZBLs require such rear-yard setbacks for CR as well as MCR properties, and Planning's OPA also explicitly requires such rear-yard setbacks.  It's worth noting that Rom Colthoff's shadow study for 109OZ, which takes as its comparison "as-of-right" building a 14m 2-storey building (with each story being 7m or 23ft---ha ha! what a neat trick!) and which covers the entire lot, takes advantage of this loophole in the old ZBLs.

Anyway, let's be frank: the primary and only real motivation for "re-examining" Ossington's existing height and density ZBLs comes from the pressure from certain real estate speculators to install massively profitable mid-rises on the former light industrial sites.


2. In re whether the fact that Ossington is not an Avenue of the sort targeted for intensification by Policy 2.2 and represented on Map 2, is relevant to whether it should be subject to mid-rise intensification
 
Eddie says "The merits of any ZBL amendment are (and should) be judged on their context, not on whether they've got an appropriate colour on a map. Many residential developments in the city have intensified over the underlying ZBL (and indeed, one can find examples that increase it over just 6m) because of the appropriateness of the neighbourhood context; why should the Ossington strip be judged differently? I'm extremely confident that if you asked any professional planner at the city (including Toronto's new Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat) you would get a similar answer."

Response. Actually, Jennifer Keesmaat has been quite vocal in attempting to discourage attempts to intensify in certain areas by reference to the OP growth strategy expressed at Policy 2.2 and associated Map 2.  On two separate occasions, concerning attempts to intensify via mega-high-rises and by conversion of employment lands, she has said that such intensification should be resisted, since "Toronto's growth targets can be met just by building mid-rises on the designated Avenues, with significant room to spare".

So according to Keesmaat, it *does* matter to whether an area is an appropriate target for intensification whether it has got an appropriate colour on a map.

Of course, Eddie is right that it could be, and evidently has sometimes been, that an area not on Map 2 has been subject to intensification.  What we have been trying to push is that Ossington's absence from Map 2 means that the legal question of whether it should be subject to intensification is an intricate one, and ultimately reduces to a planning question.  So far as the planning question is concerned, we need to weigh the social good of intensification on higher-order transit against the social bad of dense interpenetration of neighborhoods with intensification.  But Ossington isn't on higher-order transit! Indeed, the best explanation of why Ossington isn't on Map 2 is that it isn't on Map 4 (representing higher-order transit corridors), and the reason why Ossington is not on Map 4 is that it is obviously unsuited for higher-order transit.

Moreover, there are employment in addition to residential intensification targets in the OP.  The latter have been achieved, the former haven't; and the Area 2 principles undermine the still-unfulfilled OP employment targets by encouraging the replacement of Ossington's light industrial uses with yet more residential condos.


3. In re whether 20m developments in Area 2 would "respect" the surrounding Neighborhood, and Eddie's appeal to "expert" opinion

Eddie says, "Although the OCA argues that 20m developments would not respect the surrounding Neighbourhood, I (and the professional planners that I have talked to) do not think it is necessarily an open-and-shut case. The Ossington strip is Mixed Use rather than Residential (which carries less restrictive zoning). That city planners such as Thomas Rees might agree (due the presence of Area 2) simply strengthens my opinion that the OP should not be read so narrowly as the OCA might prefer it to be."

Response. The overriding aim of the OP is expressed in the motto, "Grow, but Protect".  In the first instance (though not exclusively) the areas to be protected are those with a Neighborhood land use designation.  Because of this, the OP makes clear that Neighborhoods are not to be targeted for significant over-ZBL intensification.  But that doesn't mean that anything goes so far as other land use designations.  In particular, it is just as important that zoning or building in non-Neighborhood areas protect adjacent Neighborhoods.  From the fact that a given area is designated Mixed Use and so carries "less restrictive zoning" nothing follows about whether 20m developments in the area would or would not respect the surrounding neighborhood.

As for whether the fact that Rees's draft Area 2 principles provides confirmation of one's opinion that 20m developments would respect the surrounding Neighborhood: well, if Rees says that P, maybe that's a prima facie reason to believe P, but ultimately, whether you believe P on the basis of Rees's endorsement will depend on why he believes P.  Now go read Benj's response to Rees; at the very least, it seems as if a number of issues remain open.

"Pro hominem" arguments---it must be right because so-and-so said it---are just as bad as "ad hominem" arguments---it must be wrong because so-and-so said it.  Appeals to authority are irrelevant and distracting.  All that really matters---or all that should really matter---is the arguments.  And arguments---much less successful arguments---that a row of 20m mid-rises would "respect" the 30 or more affected residences and the affected school and business communities have been, so far, almost entirely absent.


4. In re why, whether, and how Ossington will be widened in future to a 20m ROW

Eddie says, "[I]n regards to the ROW, the OP envisions a 20m ROW on Ossington sometimes in the indeterminate future; the presence of historical buildings need not disrupt this.  Aside from the likely unpalatable ways of "preserving" the buildings (i.e. facadism), there are potentially ways to preserve them that might allow the buildings to be "moved" the ~1.25m required to allow the 20m ROW. If the technology doesn't exist now (and I'm pretty sure it does), perhaps it will in fifty (or a hundred!) years."

Response.  The issue of whether either the street or the sidewalks of Ossington should be widened to conform to a 20m ROW is rendered moot by Planning's OPA Area 1 Principles, according to which existing buildings should be reused and density increased by incorporating vertical additions.  These Principles will effectively prevent any such widening from occurring.  Good thing, too, since there are several historical buildings on the street, and the existing character buildings are crucially constitutive of Ossington's character.

Eddie suggests that future technology will allow us to move these existing buildings so that the sidewalks can be widened.  Ding ding ding!  Eddie, you have won the jackpot in the Argumentative Stretch Sweepstakes.  Suffice to say that there is no chance whatsoever that the supposed need for wider sidewalks would ever support moving existing buildings.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that the sidewalks in Area 2 are, at 12.5-13.5ft, already very wide and so do not need widening.  The City's cookie-cutter approach of requiring that every new development cede 1m to the City, even in cases where the sidewalk is already very wide, and even when doing so would result in disruptions of the desireably uniform street wall, is absurd.

Let's be frank.  The real reason the City and others keep appealing to the supposed future of Ossington's ROW being 20m---again, a widening that should not happen and, given the Area 1 principles, will not happen---is because this can be used, in combination with the performance standards of the Avenues and Mid-rise Buildings Study, as bogus justification for allowing 20m or higher (109OZ is 21.5m, plus 5m penthouse) developments on Ossington (as was done in the planning justification for 41 Ossington).


5. In re whether the holistic nature of the OP supports a reading on which mid-rise intensification on Ossington is encouraged, notwithstanding that Ossington is not targeted for intensification by the growth strategy at  2.2

Eddie says, "There is nothing in the [OP] that states that a six-storey (or 20m tall) building would be inappropriate on Ossington. Section 4.4 of the OP on Mixed Use Areas - the most relevant section in this discussion - even seems to trump the idea of intensification in an area such as this one. [...] That other sections of the OP might struggle against these points does not invalidate the above; the OP is meant to be read as a whole."

Response: I agree that the OP is meant to be read as a whole, and when read as a whole it is completely clear that the discussion of Mixed Use Areas in Chapter 4 is meant to provide further guidance for implementing Policy 2.2, which the OP repeatedly flags as the governing growth strategy.  Chapter 4 does not direct growth to any particular land-use designation; Chapter 2 is the only place that explicitly directs growth.  Again, this is confirmed in text throughout the OP, and in multiple City documents and OMB decisions.

The idea, again, is that within the categories targeted for growth in Policy 2.2 and set out in Map 2 the land use designations that will see the most over-ZBL intensification will be Mixed Use and certain other (e.g., Institutional) areas, as opposed to Neighborhoods.  So it is *not* the case that Section 4.4 of the OP "trumpets" (that's what Eddie means, not "trumps") the idea of significant over-ZBL intensification on Ossington just in virtue of Ossington's being a Mixed Use Area. 

To suggest that the OP does target any Mixed Use Area for intensification is to commit what I call the "sandbox" fallacy.  Suppose I tell my kid Priscilla: I direct you to play in schoolyards or church playgrounds.  Now, as it turns out, within schoolyards and church playgrounds, the more specific area that Priscilla will usually end up playing in will be a sandbox.  In this case, it would be fallacious to suppose that my instruction to Priscilla entails that she can play in any sandbox whatsoever---e.g., a sandbox on a construction site.  Replace "schoolyards or church playgrounds" with "Avenues or Centres" and "sandbox" with Mixed Use Area, and you have the same pattern of (fallacious) reasoning for the conclusion that Chapter 4 encourages intensification in any Mixed Use Area.


6. In re whether Ossington should count as a character area, and whether a "core-perimeter" principle is operative in preservation of distinctive areas of the City

Eddie says, "Finally, I note that the Ossington Strip is not a character area as defined by the City of Toronto, nor a Heritage Conservation District. The city, to my knowledge, does not recognize anything such as a "core-perimeter" rule, not in "official" Character Areas nor in Heritage Conservation Districts. That "taller" buildings are often placed on the corners of streets (due their their prominence, and reduced shadow impact) does not (and should not) preclude a taller building appearing in the middle of a street if it make sense, especially when stepbacks and angular planes are involved to help hide a mere 6 metres."

Response: The Ossington Strip has been recognized as a distinctive destination district for over a decade (and as a somewhat rougher destination district long before that), both in fact and as explicitly noted in planning reports and the like; preservation of Ossington's distinctive status was a primary motivator of the previous restaurant-size OPA, and one of Planning's main stated goals for the present OPA is to preserve the distinctive character of Ossington.  The fact of Ossington's character, and Planning's desire to preserve it, is what is relevant here, not whether Ossington "is a character area as defined by the City of Toronto".

Whether there is some kind of official "core-perimeter rule" recognized by the City is also besides the point.  This is a basic principle of proper planning, operative in a number of OPAs targeting preservation of character in interesting parts of the City, including OPA 174 covering Yonge/Dundas-Gerrard, OPA 211, coverning Yorkville; OPA 334, covering Bloor/Bathurst-Walmer; see also the Niagara Secondary Plan, etc. etc.

7. In re whether the proposed OPA stepbacks will prevent the 20m mid-rise block developments from "towering" over the rest of the neighborhood (both Ossington and surrounding residences)

Eddie says: "With the proposed OPA stepbacks, the additional six metres on this one particular stretch of the Ossington strip will not appear to "tower" over the rest of the neighbourhood once development fills or builds on the existing structures. One must remember that we do not interact with buildings from a helicopter; we interact with them at ground level. There are numerous examples of stepbacks that effectively mask the height and density quite effectively, and I believe such stepbacks and angular planes (as proposed in the draft OPA) could on Ossington as well."

Response: Sorry, not so.  Several points are relevant here.

--- Ossington inclines strongly down from North to South.  So pedestrians on Ossington will be interacting with the 20m buildings (really, 25m, including mechanical penthouse, for an increase in over-ZBL maximum height of 11m, not 6m) from Dundas on down.  Remember, 20m is the height of your average 7-storey building; with mechanical penthouse we are talking the height of your average 8-storey building.  So even if the stepbacks were adhered to, the additional height would be an overwhelming feature for those walking on the present and future low-rise Ossington strip, drastically affecting the present view corridor on Ossington.

--- The idea that stepbacks magically make the appearance of height and looming go away is a crock.  As anyone can verify for themselves, even when recommended stepbacks are adhered to, the height of a mid-rise building is visible from nearly every vantage point except those a few feet from the building, and results in a completely different built form "feel" to an area.

--- In particular, all the 30-50 residences that would be directly affected by the row of 20m-25m mid-rises will not be experiencing these buildings from the sidewalk in front of the building.  They will rather be seeing the full height of these buildings as sky-obstructing, shadow-producing and privacy-destroying presences from their back windows and rear yards.

--- The stepback requirements are almost never adhered to, either in front or back---check out the Cube lofts on College for just one example.

--- Imposition of stepbacks reflects the performance standards of the Avenues and Mid-rise Buildings Study.  Since Ossington is not an Avenue, and is 2.5m too narrow to be an Avenue, and is a character destination district, yadda yadda, attempts to impose mid-rise standards on low-rise Ossington are inappropriate.


8. In re whether the proposed negative impacts on residential, business, school and other (e.g., bike path) communities are "over-exaggerated"

Eddie says, "The proposed impacts that the OCA states on the nearby residential, commercial, and school services are, in my opinion, over-exaggerated. More residents in the area will have a positive effect on the vitality of both the street and businesses, and the 400m2 commercial floorspace size limit will prevent a lot of the "undesirable" commercial uses from coming into the area (that this may not happen at 109Oz is a separate issue). If there is concern on things such as the bike lane and fear for the safety of the local children, then traffic impacts can be mitigated through thoughtful design, a redction in parking requirements, etc. Reducing the maximum height allowed by 6m is not the only "solution"."

Response.  This is one of the few attempts anyone has ever made to even gesture at a response to what hundreds of people have expressed as likely negative impacts on our various communities.  But note how thin and ineffective the response is.

To start, community members have flagged about two dozen areas of concern, including destabilization of Ossington's distinctively quirky old-school low-rise character, shadowing of 30-50 residential homes and Ossington streetscape, looming, loss of view corridor along Ossington, loss of privacy for 30-50 residential homes, concern about ambient noise of hundreds of people on balconies 6 stories up, threat to safety of laneway residents of introduction of hundreds of cars and service vehicles to laneway, related threat to safety of children walking to Givins-Shaw school, related threat to safety of cyclists using the contra-flow Argyle-Robinson bike path, transient demographics associated with tiny tunnel units, failure to accommodate need for affordable rental housing, encouraging the elimination of desirable light industrial jobs, increase of retail space rent associated with new mid-rise construction, etc.

Of all these concerns associated with installing a row of 20-25m mid-rises in Area 2, Eddie only discusses the traffic issue (he also discusses the concern, applying to 109OZ, about chain retail, but as Eddie correctly notes OPA principles keeping the retail space to 400m2 take care of this concern in general.) 

As for the traffic, he suggests that "thoughtful design" can signal to pedestrians and cyclists that the lane does carry vehicular traffic, but he doesn't provide any details; and he suggests that "safety measures (perhaps a mirror?)" will enable drivers to see incoming traffic better.  I take it that it is obvious that such vague gestures toward "thoughtful design" and "safety mirrors" do not address in any substantial way the serious concerns raised by introducing hundreds of cars and service vehicles onto what is presently a pleasant and lightly trafficed laneway and associated pedestrian/bicyclist corridor.

As for Eddie's other proposal---"reducing parking requirements": well, first, these requirements are imposed by the City, and second, in any case residents don't want these requirements to be reduced, since then condo dwellers will likely take up street parking.  What they want is for there to be fewer units, so that there will be fewer cars and less traffic, etc.

Eddie goes on to say, in re the transportation study, that "the challenge the OCA faces is discrediting a company that has been doing this kind of stuff for over 30 years. Without a competing traffic study, it is going to be the "completely obvious" word of the OCA against the evidence-based word of the BA Group, who have more than likely done the OMB rodeo before. History and research has shown that the OMB has tended to side with evidence over the "obvious". "

Huh?  I offered several evidential reasons for thinking that the traffic study was flawed, including that it didn't take into account an existing laneway house, didn't take into account expected new traffic, and didn't take into account the 4.5ft-below-minimum width of the laneway at Argyle St.  I'm not just saying it's "obvious" that there would be traffic issues.  Anyway, don't worry about how we'll do at the OMB.  We'll get our experts in line as need be.


9. On whether Rom Colthoff's shadow study appeals to a non-as-of-right-comparison.

Eddie says "On the issue of the shadow study, the current draft ZBL has set-back requirements, but the ZBL that is being modified by 109Oz (the 1986 one) does not. I have talked to the planner in charge of 109Oz, Francis Kwashie, who has confirmed this: the shadow study was done correctly."

Eddie is correct about this: the 1986 zoning by-law requires rear-yard setbacks for MCR zones, but not CR zones, and the Ossington strip is zoned CR.  This non-requirement makes no sense, of course, which is why the draft harmonized zoning by-law includes rear-yard setbacks for CR zones, and Planning's OPA draft principles includes rear-yard setbacks for Ossington.

So I go back to my original observation when I saw Colthoff's shadow study; namely, that the comparison building (2 storeys, each 7m tall, covering the entire lot) is patently ludicrous, even if it abides by a technical designation of "as-of-right" resting on an aspect of the 1986 zoning by-laws that is truly "out-of-date".  I would like to see Rom Colthoff, who actually lives in the neighborhood, talk to the dozens of his neighbors who are going to have to live in the shadow of his big-block mid-rise, and comfort them by saying, Hey, don't worry.  The impact isn't any worse than it would have been if we built a 14m wall on the lot line right across the alley from your back yard and back windows.


10. In re whether the OPA principles will apply to 109OZ.

Eddie says, " The 109Oz development would be rejected if solely compared to the current ZBL, but Reserve has moved to modify it (as is their right). The draft OPA requirements will not be held against the 109Oz proposal because to do so would be against city policy. One might imagine how frustrating it would be for a homeowner to be halfway through building a backyard deck, only to find out partway through construction that the city changed the rules to prohibit decks yesterday, long after the lumber had been purchased. The same idea applies here; the recommendations of the draft OPA (i.e. height limit, cornice line, angular planes) will not apply to the 109Oz proposal because they did not apply when the application for rezoning was submitted."

Response. Yes, yes, my previous response acknowledged that new OPA principles (whatever they turn out to be) could typically not be directly appealed to in support of  or against109OZ; what I said was that of course the approval or disapproval of 109OZ would be informed, even if only indirectly and by way of the sort of planning justifications that went into determining the OPA principles, by the results of the Area Study.  Nothing you've said indicates that that isn't correct; and again, given that the Area Study was, as per OP direction, initiated in response to the 109OZ application, it is clear that the outcome of the study is intended to bear, even if only indirectly, on whether the application is approved.

BTW, I loved your little story about how frustrating it would be for the City to change the rules pertaining to decks on a homeowner after they had already bought the wood.  Indeed, that would be totally outrageous!

Here's a very similar story for you.  One might imagine how frustrating it would be for a homeowner to be halfway through paying their mortgage on a property bought in a lovely low-rise residential and business area, only to find out that the city changed the rules to allow a long row of sky-obscuring, shadow-imposing, privacy-destroying mid-rises to be built right in their backyard.  Indeed, that would be totally outrageous!

11. In re whether Planning took appropriate account of massive anti-mid-rise community input

Eddie says, "This raises numerous questions: should planning be a democracy? And how does one evaluate feedback - particularly massive amounts of feedback from residents - against professional opinion, study, and principles of good planning? Let me return to a parking study example. You have two "data points": a professional study done by an experienced planning group that suggests that a proposed development's parking will not negatively impact the neighbourhood. You also have 2000 signatures on a petition that declare that the same development's parking will negatively impact the neighhourhood. Who do you believe? Does it matter if it's only 100 signatures? 5000? [...] just because Rees's draft OPA did not mirror the position of the OCA (and the supporters of a low-rise Ossington) does not mean that voices were discounted or ignored; it simply means that other factors led him to a different conclusion."

Response. Eddie here misrepresents my concerns about community input as based somehow in disappointment that we did not entirely get our way, and relatedly, as reflecting a failure to recognise that "expert" and community opinion may not always coincide.  This is not the basis of my concerns, and in my previous response I was completely explicit about this.  Here's that response again:


5. Concerns that Planning did not appropriately take community input into account do no advert to our not entirely getting our way, but rather specifically refer to (1) the fact that Planning evidently discounted or dismissed the 2100 signature petition, on grounds of concerns about its legitimacy, with neither Layton's office nor Planning informing the OCA of this fact; (2) Rees did not take into account previous site-specific input pertaining to the 109OZ lands (hundreds of pieces of feedback at public and private meetings, in emails, phone calls, etc.), even though previous Area Studies (e.g., the Queen West Triangle Study) did so, and even though Planning singled out, via Area 2, the very sites for which massive anti-midrise feedback had been given for mid-rise development; (3) Rees seems to have discounted the public Visioning Process meetings, which again clearly resulted in a low-rise consensus, as encoded in the final Visioning Process Principles, instead adverting to a 34-person survey in which, he claimed, there was a 70-30 split in favor of low-rise; here it is worth noting that at least 4 of those 34 were members of the developer's team; adjusting for vested interests and the drunk heckling guy, that leaves around 13% in favor of mid-rise.  Of course, that's nothing compared to the hundreds and thousands of pro-low-rise voices; my point is that Rees seems to have discounted or ignored the vast majority of these.


Again, my concerns explicitly pertain to the fact that a great deal of Community input was simply discounted or ignored from the get-go.  This input was not "overrided" or whatever by "expert opinion"---it was never any part of the deliberative equation.  I didn't just "infer" from the results that Planning didn't take the petition into account on grounds of supposed concerns about its legitimacy---we were explicitly told this by Deanne Mighton.  Now Planning is changing its story again---you tell me why---but in any case the fact remains that they *did* ignore the petition, and did so without either Layton's office or Planning informing the OCA and giving us a chance to respond.  That's outrageous, I hope you agree, but in any case this is not an issue about community vs. so-called "expert" opinion.  Similarly, the failure of Planning to take site-specific feedback into account is a fact that I established and complained about very early on in the Area Study process.  So my concerns do not raise the question of whether "planning should be a democracy"; they have nothing to do with this question.

What about the related fact that Planning tried to justify imposing mid-rise on a portion of Ossington on grounds---they cited this "democratic" evidence, not me---that their little survey indicated that there wasn't a "consensus" in favor of low-rise? 

Eddie says, "the developer had every right to submit a survey as a resident of Toronto - as did anyone who appeared at that meeting. Planning does not work when artificial borders divide the city into fiefdoms."

My complaint does not concern the fact that the developer doesn't live in the area---many of the petition signatories don't live in the area---but rather the fact that the developer and his team have financially vested interests in pushing through their profiteering mid-rise projects.  For Tom Rees to appeal to a tiny survey containing 4 of these guys as evidence of an absence of community consensus in favor of low-rise is ridiculous (again, excluding these vested interests and a drunken heckler, only 13.7% of the sample favored 5 storeys or higher).  Of course, given the several hundred communications from public and private meetings, email, and phone, and the thousands of petition signatures, the survey is a drop in the pro-low-rise community input bucket, so this issue ultimately doesn't matter.  But what does matter is that the City has been bending over backwards to try to justify foisting mid-rise on us, even if it means disregarding the incredible amounts of time and energy the community has spent giving feedback to the City detailing their principled opposition to such an outcome.


12. In re the question of "expert opinion" as supposedly contrasted with community opinion

Eddie says, "It's great when the public interest and public opinion align, but in the arena of politics this is sometimes impossible. As planners, we therefore must therefore be vigorous in defending the public interest, even when it is not always popular to do so. We are trying (not always successfully, but trying) to build a city that "works". Sometimes that means going against a neighbourhood's wishes because the evidence, our planning experience, and the larger forces of economics and the environment disagree."

Ah, what a nobly patronizing vision of planning!  What a lovely conception of the "public interest"---where the "public interest" at issue is not one that the public has any interest in, and which indeed may be very unpopular!

I am tempted to go on in a snarky vein.  But let me restrain myself and address the question of what the public interest is supposed to be here, and who exactly is supposed to be best equipped to identify and assess how best to accomplish this interest.

First, let me say what the public interest is not.  Given that the OP growth targets have already been met and that we currently have such a glut of unsold condo units that the Bank of Canada is warning that this could lead to a crash in the general housing market, there is not a shred of "public interest" reason for thinking that we must intensify, intensify even in presently flourishing, destination district, close-knit, bike-path intersecting areas not targeted by the OP for growth.

So, what "public interest" considerations should be entering into planning's deliberations? 

One large source of public interest considerations that Planning should be considering as regards both 109OZ and about the Ossington OPA are those interests of the affected Ossington communities---the interest of businesses to preserve the distinctive vibe that brings people to the strip; the interest of residents to continued enjoyment of their properties; the interests of parents for the safety of themselves and their children walking to school, the interests of the City to provide a safe E-W bike path route along Argyle, and so on.

Additionally, there are the sort of interests, expressed in the OP, for things like high value employment near downtown and transit (which support preservation of Ossington's light industrial uses), affordable rental housing, preservation of cultural districts, and the like.

Finally, there is the interest, primarily leaned on by Tom Rees in motivating his Area 2 principles, that Ossington get more daytime traffic.

In re each of these specific, and valid, components of the public interest: the OCA and individual members of the Community have argued that each can be achieved within the low-rise limits, and the vast majority will be undermined by installing even one, much less an entire row, of 20m/25m mid-rises on Ossington.  I have not seen the slightest smidgeon of evidence that the community is wrong about any of this.  On the contrary---and here is where I am tempted to get snarky about continuing "pro hominem" appeals to so-called experts---what we have seen is a great number of attempts (e.g., inaccurate promo pictures, ludicrous-comparison shadow studies, inaccurate transportation studies, and the like) to downplay the clear concerns here, along with a great number of attempts (e.g., the false claim that Ossington is really very much like an Avenue, the fallacious reasons for thinking that the OP encourages intensification in any and all Mixed Use Areas, the silly claim that Ossington will one day have a 20m ROW, the empirically disconfirmable claims that stepbacks and angular planes will remove negative impacts associated with extra height, and the like) to try to make the Community think that the imposition of mid-rise is, notwithstanding the multiple clear injuries to their interests, inevitable.

What about the public interest need for daytime traffic on Ossington that Rees takes to be so important?  Well, to start, this interest can be appropriately accommodated just by increasing density within the existing height limits, along lines proposed (involving vertical additions and reuse of buildings) for Area 1.  Again, there is room to triple the density on Ossington within the existing limits of height and density.  Moreover, insofar as installing mid-rises in Area 2 will occur at the expense of light industrial businesses in that area, that will arguably decrease, not increase, daytime traffic!

In any case the larger and completely obvious point is that the need for daytime traffic isn't the sort of public interest that could completely override all the other public interests that the Community and the OP correctly take to be of great importance.

Faced with the option of (1) sacrificing a bit of daytime traffic in order to preserve all the other relevant aspects of public interest identified by the community and encouraged by the OP, or (2) seriously undermining a wide range of public interests as identified by the community and encouraged by the OP in order to get a bit more daytime traffic, which will Planning and other City officials choose?

I remain confident that Planning will make the right choice.  Ultimately I believe they are going to see that the same reasons supporting keeping Area 1 low-rise apply---indeed, arguably apply even more, given its central and delicate situation---to Area 2.  In any case my impression is that this particular Community is not going to take option (2) for an answer.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Eddie,
    In re the condescending remark you make at the start of this post: "At the same time, I do think it's interesting to hear and read the arguments of a citizen who doesn't necessarily view the process from an "expert" viewpoint. It helps identify not only concerns we might overlook, but also helps highlight the gaps the profession still has in bridging the many divides between developers, the community, and planning."

    Two points. First, the last recourse of those who are unable or unwilling to respond to arguments on their own terms is to dismiss those offering the arguments as "non-experts" whose position fails to reflect "insider info" about the law or the facts.

    Second, in any case several "experts" have told us that we are in very good command of the law and the facts. If you would like evidence of this command, I am willing to let you flip through a hard copy of the OCA 25,000 word legal/planning letter with our lawyer Charles Campbell.
    best wishes,
    Jessica

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  2. Jessica, I wasn't trying to be condescending; I think it's very easy for professionals to get stuck in their own world. When I say you're not an "expert", I mean that you don't have previous training as an urban planner, nothing more. I apologize if you took offense to it; it was not my intent.

    I can honestly say that I've learned a lot from listening to the OCA, and especially by chatting with you and Benj; just because I may not agree with all of your points (and yes, I disagree with some of the OCA's interpretation of planning literature), does not mean that I wish to dismiss them. If I wanted to do that, I could have simply chosen not to publish both of your pieces of writing. Instead, I felt that it was important to let you have your say here.

    I think part of the challenge is figuring out how developers, the city, and the community can sit down and have a discussion. I think there have been missteps, mistakes, and misunderstandings on all sides, and they've hindered the dialogue. If in the future, my job has me sitting across from a community such as yourselves, I'm going to take such lessons to heart. The worst outcome of all of this in my mind isn't whether 109Oz does/does not get built. The worst outcome, to me, is one where citizens lose their trust in city planning.

    I am in the process of a million things, including getting a WordPress site up that allows huge comments. When it is up, I plan to respond to this post in full. The alternative was to write a short little post that would come off as very snippy (like a bunch of tweets crammed together), which didn't seem all that appealing (nor friendly) so I didn't.

    I would indeed like to read the legal planning letter you mention; you have my e-mail, let me know what times and days work for you.

    - Eddie

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