Supping from a poisoned chalice

I have written (too-) much previously about the details in the Preston-Carling and Preston-Gladstone plans. The Preston-Carling documents go to planning committee on Tuesday.

I will be there, and speaking. Albeit with great reluctance.

The Preston-Carling plan in particular was hijacked from the planning staff by city executive. The biggest and first clue was George Dark and his planning charade. He launched a veritable snowstorm of high rises onto the area. It wasn’t an ordinary planning exercise, so much as a snow job on the community, designed to burry the yokels. Its brazenness taints the “profession” in my eyes.

Amongst the peculiarities of that event, was the loudly announced advice that the low rise Little Italy homes in the Young-Railway Street-Beech-Champagne block be left all low rise. What was wrong with that? Well, the immediate followup was a demand to remove the area from the plan boundaries. It is extraordinary to redefine a plan boundary mid-stream. But the City complied, and tried to deny later on that the block was ever in the Plan at all.

So what’s the problem with removing that block? It’s very presence, deemed to be ideal for continued low rise, was exactly like the neighbouring blocks on the Other Side of the tracks. If this area was to be “preserved”, then why not the Other?  And for the Other, Mr Dark had plans for mid-rises at the ends of every block. It short it wasn’t so much a planning decision as a manipulation effort.

Most of those (proposed) nine-storey buildings on the dead-ends died a lingering death, under relentless assault from the community and  withering under logic, with only Taggart’s Norman Street project clinging to life. It’s fate will be decided Tuesday. However, most planning committee members actually think they approved the rezoning for the site last year (they didn’t), in a Romper Room version of Planning Committee.

The City called in more consultants after Mr Dark departed,  and the planning process went down hill. These consultants had very clear marching orders. They refused to ever discuss the Norman or other high rise zonings. Now the City claims their plans are supported by independent planning experts.

Wait, there’s more.

Some of the same experts the City pays to flesh out its Strategic Directions for the area, then sit on the “independent” design review that the City cites as evidence that certain projects are fitting and warranted. Move on folks, no conflict here.

In 30 years of off-again, on-again playing with planners, and eight years of almost-a-job dealing with planners since my official retirement from the work force, I have never experienced such a negative process as we had with the City on the Preston-Carling plan.

The planners brushed aside our interests, our concerns. They told us one week that our ideas were in the options, and the next that “it was agreed” to do something else (coincidentally enough, their way or the highway).

We worked on neighbourhood improvements.  It was hard slogging to get community ideas into the mix. We were promised a “prioritizing” exercise at the end. Instead, they imposed, out of the blue, a “priority area” where all funds were to be spent. Funny enough, lots of our ideas where in the frozen hinterland, not to be thawed for at least two decades !

Is it a coincidence that the “in” areas all looked like the drive-by routes to the condo sales offices?

Were we happy to discover the priorities on the “preston side” included removing the streetscaping from the first blocks of Preston to make way for (more) queueing cars, and implementing the most dubious of “amenities” (brick paving Adeline, sans sidewalks) ?

I recall at one meeting with the City-supplied traffic engineer consultant, someone from the community claimed that the impact of an additional 360 cars per rush hour would be not nice for the existing residents of the side street. The engineer blew his gasket, barking that he “wasn’t hired to protect the residents of the existing street, his job was to make sure the street could handle all the new traffic”.  Freudian slip, maybe, but it accurately reflected the under-tone of the meetings.

Meetings which the city insisted always be a round tables, with most of the “consultation” time being taken up by the consultants explaining their ideas. A few quick comments from the unwashed, then move on folks, next table please.

In a scenario like this, the public never gets to hear other people’s objections, there is little or no learning, and input is effectively shut down. To make sure, the City supplied a higher powered manager to patrol the perimeter.

Watching body language is always fun at meetings. There are nervous nellies, doubting thomases, and evangelists for some narrow cause. The pro’s also show body language. At these Preston-Carling events the City planning staff walked around with sagging shoulders, downturned lips, and gathered in dark corners mutting amongst themselves, while the hired guns from Big Sophisticated Toronto ran the dog and pony shows.

Like many others in the community, I sort of half-tuned out the Preston-Carling plan when it became abundantly clear our input wasn’t valued or even wanted, except for some bureaucrat to check off the box that there was a track record of public consultation. It’s a pattern I see more and more often in Ottawa.

It isn’t nice.

It means plans are imposed, and not accepted by the community. The Preston-Carling plan is like someone in a very ill-fitting suit.

It turns people off of public participation. It sows distrust with City staff. Which is a shame, because I have met many nice people, many who genuinely believe they can improve things, and I have seen so many plans actually get significantly better the more people worked on them, so that we are excited to see them come to fruition.

But Preston-Carling is a poisoned chalice. Serving a toxic brew few believe in. The neighbourhood will pay the price for years. The developers get guarantees: real rezoning, now, that means money in their pocket, now.

The community gets promises that maybe someday we might see something, but that something isn’t what we really want.

And I don’t think it will even help sell those condos.

What to do?

The best thing for the Preston-Carling plan is to hand it over to yet another consultant, one with a track record of working with various players, to increase the buy-in.

In a year, it could probably be repaired. The great condo land rush is dead now; so we have time once again to try to get it right. Will planning committee do the right thing?


(In the meantime, I and several people I know have curtailed their participation in planning events. Being table decorations isn’t the best use of my time. My wife thinks this is a great improvement. Maybe with a big enough defeat, I’ll give up and hang around home a bit more.)




9 thoughts on “Supping from a poisoned chalice

  1. Who is it that makes the decision on how to proceed with these development plans? Is it the planning department on its own or do they require the buy-in of the local city councillor? I often hear about what “the City” has done but I’m never really sure who the actual people are who make these decisions.

  2. I think what is happening in the Carling-Preston area is terrible. I would love to think the market will sour so badly it will never be developed as currently envisioned. This is intensification gone mad.

  3. I’m curious what role the local councillor played in this process. Was it Katherine Hobbs?

    1. As far as I understand Bloess and Hume were pushing for these projects.
      Committee voting results:
      That Planning Committee recommend Council approve an amendment to Zoning By-law 2008-250 for 93-105 Norman Street to permit a mid-rise residential development, as shown in Document 1 and detailed in Documents 2 and 3.
      (Councillor / Conseiller) R. Chiarelli Yes
      (Councillor / Conseiller) R. Bloess Yes
      (Councillor / Conseiller) S. Blais Absent
      (Councillor / Conseiller) B. Monette Yes
      (Councillor / Conseillère) J. Harder Absent
      (Councillor / Conseiller) S. Qadri Yes
      (Councillor / Conseillère) K. Hobbs Absent
      (Councillor / Conseiller) T. Tierney Yes
      (Councillor / Conseiller) A. Hubley Yes
      (Councillor / Conseiller) P. Hume Yes

  4. No…this area is in Diane Holmes ward. Councillor Holmes gave a ‘withering glance’ to Katherine Hobbs after Katherine Hobbs provided her thoughts on the Preston Carling plan.

    I assume that once her term on Council is over, she won’t be a lobbyist for developers in the City?

    Is there a compelling reason why Councillor Holmes is not on Planning Committee? There are a lot of big development projects in her ward and she often appears at Planning Committee but doesn’t have a vote at that Committee. Needless to say, despite her best efforts she is often over ruled at Planning Committee and at Council but she does go the distance for her Ward.

  5. So sad.
    To paraphrase the movie, “There’s nothing you can do Eric, This is Chinatown”

  6. Putting aside that the process in this case was a bit of a sham, let me ask: where in a (historically low-density North American) city should tall buildings go, not including the central business district?

    Do we believe what we say when we talk about density? I’m not so sure, since in the next breath we’re wondering how hard it will be to get our car in and out of our driveway. Any project that doesn’t make driving MORE difficult is a step in the wrong direction.

    However, again, these are general comments/questions that do not address how little the input of the current residents was considered in the present case. Let me close with another general question: What should a city government do when the rubber hits the road and they actually try to implement the density we all say we want, at a rapid transit node no less, and then nobody actually wants the density? Apparently the answer is to hire “out of towners” to bring down the hammer, and then they can at least look like they’re ‘tsk-tsking’…

  7. If you want to build an 18 storey bldg on beech street, buy the parking lot between preston and rochester.

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