Toronto neighbourhood group needs $65K to fight against developers … so it’s holding a yard sale

South Eglinton Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association needs at least $65K to go to OMB

Lisa Xing · CBC News · Posted: Sep 22, 2017 5:00 AM ET | Last Updated: October 5, 2017

A neighbourhood group in north Toronto is organizing a yard sale on Saturday hoping to raise the tens of thousands of dollars it needs to help pay for its three-year fight against a proposed rental development in the area. The South Eglinton Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (SERRA) calls its efforts a “struggle” because of the work it has had to do following the developer’s appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) after the city of Toronto rejected the high-rise rental proposal last year.

Jane Auster, a nine-year resident of the area, estimates the cost of the hearings, including a lawyer and planner, will amount to at least $65,000 by the time the OMB hearing takes place in May 2018. 

  • Challenging Ontario Municipal Board costs big money, politician says

“We think it’s pathetic when the developer has deep pockets and we have to [hold a yard sale] in order to make the money to take him on,” said Jane Auster as she surveyed board games and children’s toys spread across her neighbour’s living room floor. 

Two towers 

But even if they do raise the money they need, that’s no guarantee of success. The OMB has long been criticized for favouring developers, allowing them to successfully appeal decisions by cities to reject their proposals. 

  • OMB strikes down part of proposed midtown development characterized as ‘density creep’

The proposed development at the corner of Redpath Avenue and Soudan Avenue in the Yonge and Eglinton area will include two towers, both 24 storeys, with a total of 369 units. 

If they’re built, they’ll be located across the street from single-family houses, including the home of Leslie Chiswell, who has lived there since 1992.CBC Toronto reached out to the developer, Malen Capital, but did not receive a response.

“It is incredibly unfair to the community,” Chiswell told CBC Toronto, mentioning the Yonge-Eglinton area is already a densely populated neighbourhood that, in recent years, has seen a large number of homes bought up by developers for condo projects. 

Ward 22 Coun. Josh Matlow has been pushing for reform of the OMB for years.”It’s a broken process. It’s an imbalanced process. The entire balance weighs toward the developer’s interests,” he said.

Ward 22 Coun. Josh Matlow has been pushing for changes to the Ontario Municipal Board. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

OMB a ‘crapshoot,’ urban designer says 

Environment and Land Tribunals Ontario, a provincial agency that includes the OMB, says it “focuses on the principles of good planning, while keeping the public’s best interests in mind.”

But the process is a “crapshoot,” urban designer Ken Greenberg told CBC Toronto. “It’s expensive; it’s reductive in the way it talks about things; it’s very formal; it’s very intimidating,” he said. “People get cross examined as if they were in a criminal court, which is not really appropriate.”

Greenberg also pointed out city staff spend a large amount of their time preparing for hearings. 

Changes to OMB

In May, the Ontario government announced changes to the OMB, replacing it with a new, less-powerful Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. 

The tribunal will: 

  • have less scope for overruling city decisions on development.
  • make decisions only on whether a municipality has followed its planning process and land use plans.
  • give legal information and support to residents. 

Matlow said the changes, likely taking effect some time in the new year, will kick in too late to help residents like Auster and Chiswell, but he said will be a good start to level the playing field. 

  • OMB changes will save community groups money, advocates say

“I’d like to see a planning regime where quality of life, social services and infrastructure and development work hand in glove,” he said, maintaining he and residents are calling for “reasonable” development. For Chiswell and Auster, “reasonable” development would mean buildings with fewer than 10 storeys.

Meanwhile, the neighbours continue to tag items for the yard sale. “The people with the least amount of money have to do the most amount of work. That’s not right,” said Auster.