Over the past year and a half, Leasiders have stated – very clearly – your concerns about the proposed SmartCentre North development. You were worried about increased traffic and congested roads, about the potential loss of employment lands, about more “big box” retail development along Laird, and you were generally unhappy about the harmful effects of excesssive retail development on Leaside’s character.
We heard you, and over the following months, LPOA and LU (which became part of LPOA) raised funds and hired legal, traffic, and retail experts to advise us on whether we had grounds to oppose the SmartCentre North development, and if not, what we could do to better protect the neighbourhood.
We held numerous discussions with our consultants, and we did a lot of research. We combed through the reports of the developer’s consultants, raising questions and getting answers, not all of which were satisfactory. We had two meetings with City Staff and Councillor Parker.
In the end, it became clear that we had two basic options: either oppose the development and go to the Ontario Municipal Board (“OMB”), or settle with SmartCentres and try to get as many concessions as possible. Both options are discussed in further detail below.
In terms of the first option, our consultants advised us that we would likely not succeed before the OMB because (i) the City’s Official Plan supported this kind of retail development, (ii) the City Staff had issued a report in favour of the development without any reduction in density, (iii) we would not have any legal or financial support from the City; and (iv) the cost of mounting a meaningful challenge before the OMB would be at least $125,000 (for legal fees and disbursements, including conducting our own traffic study).
We were also told that success before the OMB would mean that the square footage for the main anchor tenant might be decreased to as low as 60,000 square feet, from the proposed 80,000 square feet. In other words, there was effectively no chance of precluding a “big box” retailer from locating in the development.
Finally, to have any chance of obtaining even a decrease to 60,000 square feet, we would require the support of Councillor Parker. During two meetings with him, he refused to agree to vote against the current proposal. As recently as April 4, 2013, Councillor Parker sent an email to LPOA and LU in which he would not commit to support a decrease to 60,000 square feet, also stating that “Leaning on me to demand a 60,000 sq ft anchor tenant does not seem likely to sway the other members of community council”. We subsequently discovered that Councillor Parker had “blind copied” his email to the other members of the North York Community Council.
Faced with all these difficulties, there was in our view no reasonable option other than try to settle with SmartCentres. While SmartCentres were always polite and respectful in our discussions, it was apparent from the start that SmartCentre was not prepared to agree to any decrease in the size of the anchor tenant. Nor would SmartCentres agree to exclude any specific tenant.
Accordingly, our focus shifted to trying to reach a settlement that provided for funding measures which would answer at least some of Leasiders’ concerns, and which would help protect the residential neighbourhood from the negative impact of the many large retail outlets on Laird.
The settlement reached on April 9, 2013 will allow LPOA to embark on measures that will benefit both the areas closest to the proposed development and the community as a whole. In particular, it provides LPOA with $110,000 in funding, which should be sufficient to:
- hire our own experts to address flow-through traffic problems with a proper traffic study
- initiate heritage conservation efforts
- assist the Bayview shopping district through a new and much needed BIA., and
- pay some of the consultant fees incurred to date (approximately $10,000)
This funding is to be spent in LPOA’s discretion.
The settlement also notes the community’s safety concerns regarding underground parking, and everyone’s desire for good landscaping and increased bicycle use. SmartCentre has agreed to involve LPOA in the planning and site design.
LPOA and LU believe that a reasonable settlement was achieved, having regard to the difficulties posed by the Official Plan, and the unwillingness of Councillor Parker to offer more support.
We look forward to working with Leasiders in implementing these improvements within our neighbourhood.