Midtown Toronto needs more parkland, not park improvement money
Plenty of dough, not enough green.
Wards with more rapid intensification generally garner more development charge dollars for community benefits.
A revitalization project for Summerhill’s Ramsden Park is priced at roughly $7 million. The high cost of this and other park projects has led some residents to question how the funds from the city’s development charge program flow to local wards for community and park benefits.
Local resident James Murphy was one of several individuals who took issue with the Ramsden Park project’s price tag and, more specifically, an accessibility ramp that was estimated to cost the city $766,000.
“Would the city have budgeted for a million-dollar ramp if there weren’t Section 37 [or 42] funds? The fact that these funds are being spent in a non-transparent and unaccountable way is a pretty serious, larger issue,” said Murphy.
He argued Sections 37 and 42 spending lack proper oversight and said he is concerned the public funds are being generously allocated by public officials to “pet projects.”
With a shortage of land available to use for park space, this scenario is playing out across Midtown Toronto. Slivers of green space in heavily developed areas are being transformed into gold-plated parkettes with flashy playgrounds thanks to a wealth of funding for community benefits secured through the development application process.
A City of Toronto Planning report obtained by Post City showed Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale had amassed upwards of $66.7 million in Section 37 benefits and another $40.2 million in Section 42 funding as of Sept. 30, 2017. Whereas Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence had only $460,391 and $415,753 in each pot respectively.
Section 37 of the Ontario Planning Act refers to money negotiated from developers in exchange for additional heights or density on new projects. These funds must be used within the local community for recreational facilities, public art, streetscape improvements or park upgrades. Section 42 money is negotiated from developers in lieu of public green space and can be dispersed across an entire ward but only toward parkland enhancements and acquisition.
Ward 27 has the largest population in the city, and local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam noted more intensification is still underway.
“We are the most development-heavy ward in Toronto. You can tell by the number of skyscrapers and cranes that are now populating the skyline,” she said.
Wong-Tam said her ward’s whopping reserve fund can be attributed to a series of tough negotiations with developers in an effort to drive up Section 37 benchmarks since her arrival at city hall.
“There is enough money, which is why we’ve been actively spending it. Most of the parks in Ward 27 are under plans for major renovation, or you can see them under construction,” she said.
College Park, just west of Yonge Street, is undergoing $3 million worth of improvements this year. Work is being done on a 1.6-acre park at the base of a 60-storey condo at 11 Wellesley St. W., and $4 million is going into park enhancements overtop of the Rosehill Reservoir at Yonge and St. Clair Avenue.
“Even though city staff will say, you know the parks and infrastructure in your communities are in fair shape … we have oftentimes elbowed our way to the front of the line, [because] we have the dollars,” said Wong-Tam.
Councillors are also finding ways to distribute Section 37 community benefits to school playgrounds.
These contributions are often a much-needed and welcome source of funding for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), which is currently facing a multibillion-dollar repair backlog.
Due to strict guidelines in the legislation, the provincial government has repeatedly denied the board’s requests to access other development charges to help chip away at its backlog. So in many cases, fixing up playgrounds or sports fields at aging and rundown school buildings doesn’t rank high on the TDSB’s priority list.
According to Wong-Tam, the city was able to give the TDSB $300,000 toward the school field at Church Public School, because it is used heavily by the local community, and was also able to enter into a partnership with Jesse Ketchum Public School in Yorkville to use Section 37 funds for a new parkette on the south side of the school. It is scheduled to go in this year.