OMB Decision on Queen West: Spark a Revolution!

Drake, you ho.
I am stunned. Simply stunned.

The Ontario Municipal Board (“OMB”) has again demonstrated the amazing capacity for an unelected and unaccountable body to wreak havoc on community aspirations. Essentially rolling over and siding with condo developers against the local community and the City, this is a terrible decision. The precious jewel that is West Queen West is at risk, and few options are available. Read the Globe, Toronto Star, Torontoist, Spacing, Reading Toronto.

Read the personal stories on 48 Abell’s A Blog for a Building to understand the cultural fabric that currently exists. Check out this “Bohemian Tragedy” for a hint of the area’s faux-boho future. (Who dresses like that?)

noted (1) red eye

It’s not just a matter of a few artists being displaced from cheap studios, it is the character of the entire area that is at risk. Those condo owners will discover that much of the authentic local culture they bought into will have disappeared when they want to sell. It’s a bad investment unless the cultural fabric of the neighbourhood can be protected and nurtured.

I agree with Rob Oullette, this decision may have sown the seeds of the OMB’s demise. He points out an important precedent and parallel: the Greenbelt Plan was a policy response to unaccountable and ineffective OMB decision-making that threatened environmental sustainability. Other jurisdictions have formally adopted the four pillar model of sustainability; ensuring that environmental, social and cultural sustainability dimensions are brought together with the economic pillar in setting development policies across government. If the OMB incorporated these dimensions into its procedures, there is no question that there would have been a different result. Toronto’s future as a creative city depends on its ability to sustain its creative urban ecology.

First of all, I have to give respect to the Active18 group for being so well organized, for being inclusive and not at all reactionary. Active18’s approach all along has been YIMBY (“Yes in My Back Yard”). These are not people that reject intensification and development. But these are people that will live in the area for another generation and who are interested in sustainable development of a precious creative, cultural and economic resource – the vibrant Queen West neighbourhood.

Active18 is a community group that includes professional planners, lawyers, real estate developers, artists, architects some of whom are very experienced in the world of development. And with all that talent and capability, this neighbourhood and the City’s plan were simply ignored. What hope is there for any other community to fulfill its aspirations and pursue its own dreams of its future?

How can the OMB, a quasi-judicial body, an arms-length agency of the provincial government, be made accountable for helping support sustainable communities? How does the OMB reinvent itself for the Creative Age, where cities need to be supported as they reimagine themselves for the future. The Board is appointed by Cabinet, it’s list of members is here. This is a policy question, and a political one as Ontario enters a new political season.

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6 thoughts on “OMB Decision on Queen West: Spark a Revolution!”

  1. I agree mark, I’ve been following the Queen W Triangle stuff and work of Active 18 somewhat, and I was really dissapointed by the OMB’s decision.

    I’m no planning expert, but the bits of the OMB documents I read seemed to pretty much spell out ‘we’re an out of touch bureaucracy’. In one part the OMB gave lip service to the creative work that had been done by the City and Active 18. Then in the very next section they said, but it’s not the OMB’s job to deal with creative solutions, so here’s our standard cart blanche for development totally out of step with a liveable and sustainable city (I paraphrase). Grrr.

  2. I’ve put my comments on the subject of 48 Abell in other places, but I would like to add three short comments:

    The plans for the development to replace 48 Abell call for 199 affordable housing units; by the account given by Active 18, those 199 units will replace the 80 now in the building. The developer plans to create the affordable units in cooperation with St. Clare’s Multi-faith Housing, an organization that has provided low-income housing since the government got out of the business and most private landlords abandoned the poor.

    As this report points out, adding floors or otherwise expanding or refitting 48 Abell will not work. At this point, it appears that the planners had to choose between keeping 48 Abell in its present form and adding another hundred units of affordable housing.

    I regard decent housing as a right, and as with all rights, you do not need artistic talent, or even an interest in the arts, to claim it. Anyone with 46 chromosomes and a pulse has the right to a warm clean place to lie down.

    None of this means that we should not regret the passing of 48 Abell, or the inability of the city and the neighbourhood to come to a compromise with the developers which would have permitted affordable housing in a different type of development. But I do not consider it acceptable to put ideas of “cultural sustainability” ahead of the needs of people who may not sustain their lives much longer if they do not find a place to live. Nor do I consider it acceptable to ignore the people working to build housing for the poor.

  3. John, thank you for your comment and the link to St. Clares site. It gives me some comfort that such an organization is involved. And I agree that affordable housing is not only an issue for artists.

    My point is that social sustainability (affordable housing) and cultural sustainability (the creative character of this neighbourhood and its significant role in the city’s culture) are both legitimate dimensions to bring to planning.

    My number one concern is that the city, its planning powers and structures, together with the OMB process are fatally flawed in addressing these issues in any way other than quasi-judicial processes removed from the community context. We need a reformed governance structure.

    This is a critical issue in the process of building a world-class city we can all be proud of, one that is socially inclusive, culturally vibrant and a magnet for creativity in all aspects of life.

  4. Well don’t just sit there bemoaning the fate of the Queen West Triangle – do as I did and get others to do the same: write to the Premier of the province and insist that this OMB decision (and perhaps the OMB itself) be quashed. There is an election coming in October. Faint hope, but perhaps someone in Queens Park will listen if enough of us protest.

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