Money Talks: What’s it saying at City Hall?

My mother often told me “money talks”.

And it’s making a huge din down at City Hall. Especially in the Planning process.

Frankly, it’s scarey what I overhear.

Let’s look at some of the funds swishing around.

More and more often I hear of Community Associations getting “incentives”, “program money”, inducements, or whatever. No one ever uses a noun that starts with “b”. The going sum seems to be about a $30,000 “contribution”. I hear of three such payments on the west side alone; and strong hints that the same sum was available to the association of which I am a member, but alas, the offer wasn’t made in cash directly to me. [too bad, so sad — Editor]  That it comes with strings is evidenced by the need for it to be “papered” by the developers legal beagles.

At what point does this grease a compromise and morph into a expected payment in return for not opposing a development?

Are we sure the price is right? Will it go up?

Section 37 payments are already turning this way. At a public meeting to discuss a high rise on Somerset, demands to know the amount of section 37 monies potentially available was on everyone’s lips. Then the audience split neatly in two: one half wanted that money for their pet projects: underground parking for teachers, social housing, a butterfly garden, an injured turtle sanctuary. Well maybe not the turtle sanctuary. It might have been for parrots. Every one with a cause was circling in the tank smelling free money.

The other half of the audience opposed the high rise project, arguing approving it constituted bad planning. The sound of money slopping around in the bucket was polarizing the crowd. “take it while it’s there”; “it might not be available later”, “we’ll lose the fight (over zoning) anyway”, sorts of things.

And its not just the locals who are tempted.

Who doesn’t think there is an element of … distortion, in Council gleefully approving some secondary plans that call for an abundance of high rises while simultaneously insisting that the actual zoning remain four stories, the better to reap the Sec 37 funds as the building outgrows its zoning. All according to plan.

I pointed out that Dark’s Strategic Plan draft for Carling-Preston had a troublesome glitch (feature, if you believe in Apple) in that a parcel of land was zoned higher rise while it was deemed too small to earn an H on the map that designated a permissible tower location. Now the pressure is on to squeeze in another tower. Or maybe the owners just want a contribution. Who knows what anyone means anymore?

Also in the Carling-Preston plan is a lot that is being zoned 9 stories while the planners insist it will be developed to 5 stories only. Shall we take bets how long it will be before a developer proposes nine floors for the whole lot?

And we haven’t even touched on election contributions.

What’s one to think?

I think there’s too much money slopping around the Planning process. The City shouldn’t be negotiating money from developers for rezonings; nor developers paying community associations. Donors to politicians should declare the industry or sector they work in. Contributions by developers to local projects should be in the development charges, according to rules, not negotiated ad hoc.

If not, every planning decision becomes tainted with a “who paid how much for that?” type cynicism. The cynicism need not be based on fact, or actual influence. It’s all in the optics. And they are Not fun.

Or am I just too Pollyanna-ish, missing out on all the excitement?


Full disclosure: I was a Boy Scout many many years ago, in a different world.









3 thoughts on “Money Talks: What’s it saying at City Hall?

  1. Good work.
    I have always thought of section 37 as the embodiment of “Everything has its price.” As a result, no development can be ruled out by zoning by-laws, which by definition can be changed if a suitable price can be agreed.
    Once section 37 is in play, the ensuing discussions or bargaining centre on what is the maximum “feasible” amount the developer can pay — and still make a tidy profit. Civic officials are always at a disadvantage in these negotiations.
    As you point out in your blog, skillful negotiators turn it into a form of legalized bribery, with offers of this or that benefit to various interested parties designed to split those opposed.
    This whole process and outcomes are fostered by the public attitude “Well, they’re going to get what they want anyway, so we might as well get something from it.”
    Which has to change first: the law, the decision process (OMB), or the public attitude?

  2. “Or am I just too Pollyanna-ish, missing out on all the excitement?”

    Pollyanna was an infamous optimist; for gloom, try Eeyore.

    As for all of that lovely developer money, I don’t know. People flip their lids at the thought of paying taxes of any kind, and turtles can’t afford user fees. But selling zoning exceptions just solidifies the image of the city as an entity that stops me from doing what I want while cheerfully letting the Other Guy blot out the sun.

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