Leaside residents near Laird Drive will be happy to know the city is moving forward with a neighbourhood planning study that Ward 26 councillor Jon Burnside says is at least a year late.
The Laird in Focus planning study, which held its official community engagement launch at Leaside United Church on Nov. 30, should have started in 2014, according to Burnside.
He said he had most recently been told it would start this past spring and he made no attempt to mask his annoyance with the delay.
Ideally it would have been done before developer Steve Diamond put in a proposal last year to construct four residential towers ranging from 19 to 34 storeys, “but the planning department let us down,” Burnside told the Town Crier. “I did get the west side of Laird going all the way down to Southvale included in the focus study, but we really need to spell out the city’s vision before a developer does it for us.”
Burnside said he’s “never heard a good excuse” for the delay, He added. “I’ve been trying to get some good answers from the chief planner, of which she’s supplied none. And you can quote me on that.”
In response to Burnside, city planning manager Willie Macrae said that contrary to the councillor’s impression, the project was given a “soft launch” this past spring, including a live website and public consultations online and at pop-up Planners in Public Space events.
“Part of our goal with the soft launch was to reach out to residents who might not otherwise come to public meetings, and you’ll see some of the results of that on our website,” Macrae said.
He also said his department had faced resource issues.
“From a staffing and budget perspective we’ve been constrained,” he said when asked for the reason the study wasn’t launched earlier. With Mayor John Tory demanding a city-wide 2.6 percent budget reduction, his department’s funding was delayed, he noted.
Now however, Macrae said city planning is eager to move forward on the project as quickly as possible. It has hired a consulting firm, the Planning Partnership, whose consultants will be contributing to planning and public engagement issues.
The formal consultation period announced on Nov. 30 includes three phases: a background analysis of consultation components; a planning framework for the study area, which lies southeast of Laird Drive and Eglinton Avenue East, and along Laird’s west side; and finally the last consultation, report, and development plan, which would involve as many area residents as possible and potentially include such features as height restrictions or amenity guidelines.
“We’re trying to have a very robust consultation plan, because we have very interested and informed residents, and we want to use them to the best extent possible,” Macrae said.
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