As members of the DMRI know, we have actively been working with our City Councillors, Jaye Robinson and Denzil Minnan-Wong, as well as city planning staff in opposition to the Cadillac Fairview/Lanterra proposal to build inappropriately tall and dense condominium towers on the old post office site. Originally, they had proposed two towers of 39 and 34 storeys, but vigorous opposition from the DMRI and the residents of Don Mills caused a revision of the design, to a lower design, but still too high and too dense, 34 and 16, with the small tower now being a lower, but wider, C shaped, mid rise building, following the curvature of The Donway.
As a bit of background, when the mall redevelopment was agreed to in 2010, there was an understanding that the higher structures would be placed in the middle of the shopping centre lot, while the area along The Donway would be made up by mid rise buildings. This seemed the most reasonable accommodation for all parties involved and would have allowed the increase in density that Cadillac Fairview desired, while working well from a neighbourhood and planning perspective. With this understanding in place, we were surprised when Cadillac Fairview proposed two enormous towers totally out of keeping with the spirit of the original planning agreement.
What was Cadillac Fairview’s rationale for this change? Firstly, they stated that at the time the agreement was reached, they did not own the Post Office site, so this was outside of the scope of the agreement. Secondly, they found a loophole in area zoning, as most of the old post office site is across from commercial properties, not residential, which allows for a much greater height and density than if they were across from residential properties.
After a particularly boisterous and passionate community meeting, plus input from our membership, it became obvious the DMRI had to represent the community in this battle. To this end, we joined with the city planning staff in becoming parties to the Ontario Municipal Board hearings on the change of zoning to allow this project. As a full OMB hearing can cost a party from $60,000 to $100,000, and take a week or more to complete, this is not a something to be undertaken lightly, but we felt it was necessary for the community that we take part.
When the OMB offered an opportunity for mediation, a less onerous process both from financial as well as time perspective, we agreed to take part. The mediation process is meant to allow all parties to discuss their concerns and see if there is enough common ground to allow a compromise to be reached before going to a hearing. Our view, and one we have expressed to Cadillac Fairview and Lanterra repeatedly, is that the building or buildings should remain at the same height and density as the adjoining Flaire building. City planning staff had agreed that even the revised towers were too high, without giving a goal height.
While the mediation process is not yet complete, we have been working to keep the residents of Don Mills informed, to positively influence the final outcome, and to ensure that we do not have to face more of such battles in the future. These included:
- We met with Premier Kathleen Wynne and requested that she clarify a 2014 statement by the government that seemingly encouraged the maximization of density on any new planning project. Premier Wynne stated that this was not what the government had intended, and Premier Wynne agreed to a public statement clarifying the government’s position on this issue.
- We have discovered that the 2006 Don Mills Secondary Plan is very weak in protecting the community from overly large developments. To this end, it was recommended to us, and the DMRI will undertake this, to have an infrastructure study in place to actually determine the amount of building and density the infrastructure of Don Mills can withstand. With this in hand, we plan to work with the city planning staff, and our City councilllors, Jaye Robinson and Denzil Minnan-Wong, to revise the Don Mills Secondary plan to ensure that any future development is in keeping with not only the spirit of the community, but also will ensure that community infrastructure is not overwhelmed by new development.
- We have met and talked repeatedly with Councillors Robinson and Minnan-Wong, as well as with city Planning staff to ensure that all sides remained dedicated to controlling the size of this and any future projects.
- We held a public information campaign, with Stop The Height! Signs all over Don Mills, with information about the development on our website.
- We held another residents’ session in early December to discuss the latest developments in the post office site. The attendance was great and the audience was interested and well informed.
Once the mediation process is complete, we will be reaching out again with an update. Should the outcome call for it, we will also hold a community meeting to discuss the final plan, how it was reached and what it means for the community.
Again, our big plan for the year is starting the process to fix our broken Secondary Plan, and give it the teeth we need to ensure good development for Don Mills. To that end, if you have any planning or other relevant experience, we could use your help in moving this forward. Please contact me. I’d love to work with you!
Don Mills is a unique and special community, and it deserves to be fought for.