The famous saying is “A win is a win, regardless of how you look at it.” I’m not so sure.
After debating the issue for 3 ¼ hours on Monday afternoon, the appeal by Alston Properties to build a 123.5’ building at 127 Bannatyne was denied. They are left with a maximum height of 110’.
I am confident that 99% of the 265 people that sent letters/emails in opposition to the appeal would rather see a residential building on that site rather than a surface parking lot. The #1 issue presented in all of the opposition was its height. The second issue was the look of the building — it wasn’t complimentary to the heritage buildings that surrounded it.
So did the councillors understand our passion for this National Heritage Site and vote to protect the Exchange District from a building that just did not fit in? Sadly, no.
Our councillor, Vivian Santos, the person the other councillors would look to lead on the issue in her ward, shockingly voted in favour of the developer! She received PDFs of the 265 letters in advance of the meeting, and dozens of people emailed her directly, so she clearly understood how passionately residents wanted to safeguard the Exchange from development that just does not fit in.
One year ago, Councillor Santos voted to restrict this same developer, with the same building, to a maximum of 110’ saying “I cannot at this time support something that is going to be towering over the other properties.” Exactly one year later, she voted for the 124’ building proposed by the developer (who she raved about), and ignored the volumes of pleadings from her own constituents.
Councillor Janice Lukes voted in support of Councillor Santos, despite her comments last year about wanting to protect the Exchange.
Councillor Santos tried to present the controversy as a binary decision between a parking lot and a whatever-it-takes-to-make-it-financially-viable building. The shock of the afternoon: Councillor Klein demonstrated what I’m guessing is a rare reality check in the midst of a long and rambling hearing that should have been over in 5 minutes.
He equated the appeal hearing to a courtroom. He said the councillors were not there to give their opinions or to apply the law differently to each developer that comes forward and asks for more. Their job, he said, is to apply the law, and in this case, the by-law limits the height to 100’. At the appeal hearing last year, the same committee granted a ‘minimum modification’ to 110’, so that was that; end of story. He voted against the appeal.
Hmmm, 2 votes for, 1 vote against with one vote left…
The Chair, Councillor Gilroy, spoke about wanting to respect the heritage value of the Exchange District. She agreed with Councillor Klien that the decision had been made last year, and she voted against.
With 2 votes for and 2 votes against, a tie vote is not in support of an appeal, so the appeal was denied. Yes, a win, but not a win on the main issue - protecting the character of the Exchange District.
Last year the committee voted on the issue and agreed to 110’. That should be the end of the story. Somehow, the developer is allowed to come back a year later and then request “only a modest 14 extra feet.” This is blatant incrementalism and a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time.
There were a few lessons learned by the observers:
First, our own councillor ignored the clear wishes of her constituents and voted against our wish to preserve the character of the area.
Secondly, there is a major lack of understanding that to exist for future generations, the Exchange District is in need of protection and special rules. The Exchange is not downtown -- it is a distinct area.
The process is massively flawed in favour of developers at every stage, starting with the lack of public consultation that occurs in the suburbs.
Exchange residents are passionate about their area!
It may have been a ‘win’, but it was likely only round 1.
Big thanks to all of you who took the time to send an email voicing your opposition, and to those who took time to speak at the hearing — your collective voices were strong!
The full meeting is on YouTube: 57:30 Our appeal starts
1:11:15 Presentation by the developer
1:56:45 Presentation by those in opposition