CITY VIEW: Community chest vs chest thumping

It’s the same old story.

A development application is opposed by the community. Something old has to be torn down so something new can be built up. Next thing you know, the old thing is torn down and the new thing is built up — sometimes via the Ontario Municipal Board.

Call it the circle of life in the development world, or perhaps more appropriately, a year in the life of many midtown Toronto ratepayers’ associations.

Their plight is admirable if not honourable, despite occasionally having the tang of nimbyism wafting through their protest waves.

But can you blame them?

There are estimates that the Yonge and Eglinton area will see an influx of 20,000 people in the next 15 years, which is entirely due to proposed and expected developments.

While wars are waged at the OMB and condos continuously climb, the community needs to find another way to handle incoming developments with increasing heights and densities.

At a recent meeting of the Midtown Planning Group, which is run by councillors Karen Stintz, Josh Matlow and Jaye Robinson and is tasked with increasing public realm in the Yonge and Eglinton area, the issue of dealing with developers in a more effective manner came up.

One person suggested bringing the developers to the table at community meetings, in the hopes it would stop the constant David-and-Goliath scenario and would allow a more functional relationship to form.

Sure. Friends with benefits?

I suspect that’s an unpopular setup among ratepayers’ associations, who are less likely to jump into bed with developers than they are to take them to the OMB.

And that is essentially like a city-planning divorce court siding with the developer in the messy breakup, and leaving the ratepayers living in the shadows of their loss — sometimes literally.

Then there’s Section 37 of the province’s planning act, which sees money going from developers to communities in cases where approved height and density go beyond the allowable limits.

While it might be unfair to call it a form of bribery — if only because bribery is illegal and Section 37 is a piece of provincial legislation — it would be just as unfair not to accept it when it comes your way, given the benefits in the immediate area.

Take Eglinton Park, where the playground is being completely upgraded thanks to Section 37 funds from the Neon development at Duplex Avenue and Orchard View Boulevard.

But as Councillor Matlow frequently warns, Section 37 should not be the starting point of the discussion.

So let’s get creative. You can’t stop development.

It’s coming, and with 20,000 new residents in tow.

Inviting developers to the table isn’t a bad idea, but what matters most is being open and honest with them. My guess is they’ll respond better to upfront requests from the community than they will to protests and vitriol.

There are no provisions in Section 37 to stop a community from pooling resources of several Section 37 gains.

If you create a sort of “community chest” of Section 37 funds, or even a percentage from each, you can look to ideas worthy of investing in, some of which may be found at Midtown Planning Group meetings.

This scenario could do away with the OMB divorce court and create a happy marriage — lose something old, gain something new, money is borrowed, so don’t be blue.

It could be the new story.