Letter to the Editor: Social Development Vanishing in Lieu of New Development

To the editor:

I’m so proud to be part of this community because of the people who go above and beyond for its social well being and development. I can’t thank them enough!  

But what I’m wondering about is: what kind of development is residential housing? I don’t want to call it social development. While it is for residents, it does not necessarily strengthen a community.

Despite being pleasant to look at, new residences do nothing for our social infrastructure. If they do not have local community-scaled businesses or green space that invites residents to engage with neighbours, they do nothing for our social environment.

We can only hope a developer creates a high-efficiency property and plants a few trees for the sake of our natural environment.    

In other words, a community needs a balance between economic, social and natural environments in order to be a real community. As soon as sustainability vanishes in any one of those areas, then quality of community suffers.  

When a developer comes into a neighbourhood like ours, wants to build residences to make lots of money and then leave, the well-being of a community is vulnerable. A community has rules about development that are designed to nurture the social and natural environment. But the reality is, if the developer does not care, residents get temporary economic development and then buildings that are of little or no value for the social or natural environment.   

For a narrow-minded, profit-driven business developer whose interest is only short term financial gain, what would be the criteria to contribute to the social and natural environment?  Without an eye for community development, developers will care only as much as laws and regulations force them to.

The quality of our future community is only as good as rules and regulations enforcement.  

The lot where the Ukrainian Church stands at the end of Main and the canal was sold recently.

In June the developer made a presentation to the community association and was looking for a little ‘flexibility’ on the rules. Such flexibilities are called variances. When a building is to be a certain height, a developer may want it higher. When it is to be a certain distance from the edge of the property, they’ll want more. When there’s to be retail on the ground level, that might make it complicated to sell residential units, so  a developer will want to let that slide too.  

For this lot, overlooking a world heritage site on the edge of a community where people who care directly influence the cost of neighbourhood housing, the first proposed building plan was nine storeys tall, with little consideration for any of the rules. Then the developer came back with a compromise that showed tiny green yards in front of what is supposed to be retail shops. Now the building was only one storey taller than it should be.

Those little yards are on an area that is supposed to be a bike path on Main. The retail is a ‘live-work’ idea, meaning if the person who buys a condo decides they want to open a business on the main floor they might do it – with signage and appearance, subject to the condo board’s standards, not the community’s or perhaps just as importantly not the business owner’s. If they choose not to have a business that’s fine too. Reduced sidewalks, a higher building, and no retail is quite possibly what we’ll get.  Why have rules?

The developer cares about our social environment is as much as I care about his temporary economic exercise in our community. If he didn’t like the rules, then he should not have bought there. If he still does not like the rules, then sell. With million-plus-dollar condos going in a spot that overlooks the Canal, I’m not concerned we won’t find someone to do something with that land. The only variable seems to be how we can deal with the rules designed to enhance our social and natural environment.

If community volunteers were paid, if their time was not taken for granted, if high-priced lawyers and lobbyists were as readily available for the community to support social and natural environment development, then all would be fair. But that’s clearly not the case.The Greystone and The Corners developments have drawn praise as model examples of the community working with the city and developers to create a project everyone was happy with. This when the Oblates paid for architects and planners to work with a handful of super-dedicated community volunteers so the community could say what it wants before the property was sold.

Unfortunately the Ukrainian church did not pay for high-priced community consultation before it sold. So that project goes the way of every other small or large project in the city. The community raises a fuss and then it is up to volunteers to fight lawyers and planners for the social good! Any wonder why developers and unions can’t pay for campaigns any more? Maybe we’ll get a little more focus on community development instead of housing development!  

Showing we care is most often not easy. Our political masters appear to believe that because we don’t step up, we don’t care. Volunteers who go on behalf of their neighbours to the Ontario Municipal Board, have to fight high-priced lawyers and developers who make money by setting rules aside. What it will take to fix this situation? We need a system that is made to listen to constituents and does not assume we are ignorant, don’t care, or both. Build a system that can educate everyone, and makes it easy for all of us to engage. We can have better communities. But this ‘fighting’ for our well-being has to change!  We are the stewards of this community responsible for building the bridge for those who follow!  

 

Jamie Brougham, Letchworth Road

 

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Filed in: Letters

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