Plans, Pitfalls and Priceless Properties

The trouble with plans is that they don’t always get completed … as planned. A few recent media stories point out some pitfalls of current municipal zoning and development economics. Some things could be considered priceless by citizens but ultimately have a price imposed on them that permanently affects their fate.

Dunlop Observatory, Richmond Hill

There is currently a dispute over the fate of lands surrounding the Dunlop Observatory. Although 70% of the area has been designated as a “cultural heritage landscape”, Richmond Hill’s Official Plan would allow development of 35% to 40% of the Observatory lands.  A developer that owns the site is seeking zoning changes to accommodate an 833 unit housing tract. The company would develop 53% of the site and turn over 47% to the town. Some opponents say that the development would wipe out all woodland in the area and they want the whole site preserved. That issue is going to the OMB where anything could happen.

Ontario Legislature, Toronto

The Ontario Legislature is about as iconic a building as you can get for the city of Toronto and the province’s capital city. But the view looking north toward the Legislature is going to be altered with the addition of two high-rise towers (44 and 48 storeys) that will protrude behind it. In spite of the opposition of the Speaker, the projects were approved by the OMB in 2010 and will proceed. The Premier was quoted saying, “Ultimately, I think the people of Toronto have the right to decide on something like the building height restriction within their community.”

Allandale Station, Barrie

Restoration of the Allendale Station has been talked about for years and now that the project is finally underway, the development proposal for the lands surrounding the Station is starting to unravel. A single developer proposed to build seven low-rise buildings up to four storeys each adjacent to the Station to maintain a uniform look and maintain the Station as an architectural focal point. The plan was contingent on buying the land from the city for about $2 million dollars. A councillor raised the question because “information has come forward from a business point of view, and I don’t feel the asset has been properly appraised from both sides”. Barrie Council recently voted to divide the land into four parcels and put it up for sale to multiple buyers. The decision also removed the height restriction from the area. The city may walk away with more cash but will be surrendering whatever control it now has over the site.  The developer that has been drawing plans for the whole site in negotiation with the city has threatened to sue.

Jane Jacobs was a severe critic of conventional municipal zoning practices in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). An academic review noted, “Zoning has been  … overly rigid, in dividing our cities and towns into uniform, low-density districts, each dedicated to a single primary use. And zoning has been  … overly permissive, in its failure to set design standards for streets, and for how buildings front upon those streets, that would reinforce the fundamental character of streets as public spaces.” (Jane Jacob’s Critique of Zoning, Jay Wickersham). As Innisfil plans for the future, it will be challenged to use zoning wisely and sensitively to act in the public interest while fostering economic vitality.

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