Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The OMB Makes a Decision

Among other things, OMB stands for Ontario Municipal Board, a court of last resort for scuffles between developers, city councils, preservationists, neighbourhood groups, and affordable housing advocates. Recently, the OMB handed down their decision on an appeal launched by a group of developers who want to build in the Queen Street West triangle. The OMB decision essentially gave the developers everything they wanted.

The Queen West triangle, so-called because it sits in a triangle formed from the street grid and a railway that cuts through at an angle, has come into prominence as a fashionable area for artists and designers. Attracted by its convenient location, access to public transit, and hip reputation, developers wanted to build there. The developers, naturally, wanted the highest possible density. The community had other ideas. They formed a neighbourhood association, called Active-18, and fought the development plans tooth and nail. They called themselves YIMBY (yes in my back yard), and claimed they did favour development, just not the high density the builders had in mind.

Nobody doubts that Toronto will grow, or that it has to grow; indeed, very few people claim that Toronto's population should not grow. But the Ontario government has wisely ordered a green belt around the Greater Toronto Area, checking the sprawl that leads to choked congestion and smog. That means we have to build more and higher buildings in the city, and that, inevitably, means we need more tall apartment buildings. Everyone in Toronto will tell you that as a general rule, this makes sense. But many of them will also tell you that nobody should do it where they live. Everyone supports intensification; nobody really wants sprawl. But most of us have really good reasons to intensify somebody else's neighbourhood.

Either out of genuine support for affordable housing downtown, or else out of a desire to look good, one of the firms developing in the Queen West Triangle, one of the builders arranged with St Clare's Multifaith Housing to build 199 affordable housing units, including lofts suitable for artists' live/work spaces. Unfortunately, in order to build these units, they must demolish an old industrial building in which a number of artists have illegally established lofts. The neighbourhood group has rallied against this, despite a consultant's report, which notes, among other things, that the lofts in the old building not only violate zoning laws, but my also violate fire codes: protection of the existing structural elements may not meet the requirements of the Ontario Building Code." Opposition to the replacement of 48 Abell with expanded affordable housing also ignores questions about the affordability of the existing artists' lofts, and does not address the plans to more than double the number of available affordable housing units.

Someone who only read the comments on this project in Toronto's local press could easily get the impression that a tyrannical OMB had sided with money and profit over community. I did not see a single comment which mentioned that, whatever the problems with their decision, the OMB backed a plan to create 100 affordable housing units in a city starved for them. Nor did the many protests against the OMB decision address the real need for intensification in the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto politicians, commentators, and civic leaders have so much invested in the "neighbourhood" paradigm that they fail to note that sometimes, local interests must make some sacrifices for the greater good. As long as many influential people in this city refuse to condemn any NIMBY position, no matter how harmful or heartless, the city will need the OMB to provide adult supervision.


Ben said...

I am so happy that I did not move into that shithole last summer.

Anonymous said...

BTW, you are also a bit of a coward... moderated comments?? Come on!

Anonymous said...

I have read the various comments you have posted regarding 48 Abell Street on many websites. You are the only person who brings up the affordable housing aspect of the proposed project. You often question why the developer decided to work with St. Clare's, so here is the answer to your question......The owners of 48 Abell who started the studio rentals 20 years ago, tried to legalize the building. The initial application submitted in 1999 didn't go anywhere. The owners hired Verdiroc when development talks resurfaced once the neigbouring properties submitted their applications. The affordable housing was supposed to offer the current tenants somewhere to go.

I have lived in the building for 5 years and will miss it when it goes.