The TDSB voted Wednesday night to defer making a decision regarding the controversy over the Bannockburn School property until after the Ontario Municipal Board renders a decision on the proposed severance.
Local trustee Jennifer Arp brought forward a motion to reconsider the school board’s June 2013 decision to sever the property and sell the greenspace.
That motion passed with a two-thirds majority, but a second motion to pull Bannockburn School from the list of surplus lands and withdraw the board’s OMB appeal never saw the light of day.
Trustee Robin Pilkey, who represents Parkdale-High Park, tabled a motion to defer making that decision based on the idea that the TDSB had already sunk enough money into the OMB fight that it should be seen through. A majority of trustees agreed, and the deferral was approved.
The Toronto public school board first proposed the severance of the property to raise funds for other projects. It met with fierce opposition from the community, leading to the formation of the Save Bannockburn activist group, which then led the charge against the proposal and raised funds to fight it at the OMB.
The city’s committee of adjustment rejected the proposal in May last year, saying the school board failed to follow its own policies in the proposal and citing community need for greenspace.
Arp, Ward 8, said despite the decision she’s still continuing her fight to save the greenspace and is “optimistic” she can put a halt to the potential severance and sale.
“It’s not over, it’s not done,” she said outside the meeting at TDSB headquarters in North York moments after the deferral passed. “Regardless of proceeding at the OMB and whatever that decision is, I do stand by this community and I do stand by what I believe in — that the TDSB didn’t follow its own process and it made a wrong decision.”
Arp said if the OMB rules in favour of the TDSB’s severance proposal then she will be ready to take the issue back to the TDSB.
“I will call a special meeting depending on what the decision from the OMB is,” she said, adding with a smile that if the TDSB loses at the OMB, “then we’re done” and the greenspace will remain intact, with the TDSB not having any more options.
South Armour Heights resident Richard Van Dine, who lives across the street from the greenspace and who attended the meeting, called it “a small victory” despite being unhappy with the deferral.
“I’m always discouraged when people who could know better choose to wait until someone else decides,” he said. “But, a small victory: I think it was an acknowledgement they don’t have enough information themselves and to me that reflects on the poor job the previous board and staff did in initiating and carrying through this proposal.”
Catholic board trustee Maria Rizzo said her board has been trying to make offers to the TDSB for the property. The decision to let the OMB render a decision first left the audibly passionate trustee “disappointed.”
“Why are they spending all this money fighting at the OMB?” she protested during a phone interview. “So they’re going to spend thousands of more dollars even though the Catholic board has said repeatedly we will keep it as an entire school site and buy the entire property.”
Community activist Patricia McMahon, who started the Save Bannockburn community group, said she is “somewhere between distressed and gobsmacked” at the board’s decision to defer until after the OMB hearing.
“I always thought what better lesson for our kids than to teach them that when you make a mistake you say you made a mistake, you say you’re sorry, and you start again,” she said. “This doesn’t get any better by dragging it out at the OMB.”
The OMB hearing, which started in November before being adjourned in January, is scheduled to continue in May.
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