Journalistic diversion

What this job interview produced

[BACKGROUND: For a recent job interview for a local urban planning journal, I was handed a timely Ontario Municipal Board decision and given two hours to produce a journalism-based story. This was that unedited piece. I did not get the job.]


TORONTO — Without objection by the City of Toronto, The Ontario Municipal Board ruled on June 5th that a proposed residential high-rise development at 45 Charles Street East could proceed with a requested increase in both height and dwelling capacity.

Last week’s OMB decision followed a request to the City by the developer, 45 Charles Ltd., to amend the size of its proposed development to 511 units in a 47-storey building. Council took no action on this zoning variance request, compelling the developer to appeal to the OMB.

The initial application by 45 Charles Ltd. to amend the zoning by-law was approved in 2008 by City Council to allow an increase in lot density for what was then a proposed 417-unit, 39-storey residential high-rise with mixed use development at street level. That amendment, By-law 1308–2008, required the developer to first satisfy conditions laid out by Council before it would approve a building permit for the project. These conditions included $1.5 million to be paid by the developer for the construction of a community swimming pool at 495 Sherbourne Street.

At the OMB hearing last week, Board-appointed planner Robert Glover argued that the amended development proposal was mindful of the intensification already occurring in the “Downtown”-designated area between Yonge and Church streets. Glover agreed with the developer that the proposal for 45 Charles Street East did not exceed the Official Plan’s mandate, nor did it come in conflict with the provincial Growth Plan.

The City, which did not testify at the pre-hearing conference, forfeited further action against the developer’s appeal. Glover’s findings were not contested by the City, which compelled OMB mediator James R. McKenzie to change the pre-hearing to a settlement hearing in favour of the developer’s appeal. McKenzie agreed with both Glover and the developer that the amended proposal, as written, is still in the public interest.

McKenzie’s decision was made despite an ongoing campaign led by City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale). Wong-Tam has argued for Council to remove the City from OMB oversight to give Toronto greater latitude in making municipal-level planning decisions. 45 Charles Street East is located in Wong-Tam’s ward. The City’s absence at the hearing is also noteworthy, as it follows an argument made by Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) in May that Toronto continues to face a hiring freeze which is leaving 60 vacant municipal planner positions unfilled — most of these needed for the downtown core.

The OMB settlement decision, issued 5 June 2012, is published as O.M.B. File No. PL120060.