End of OMB puts power in residents’ hands

Tools and policy changes should result in better development


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Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat

A few weeks ago, I was doing some informal research into the local real estate market and discovered that almost every bungalow sold over the past few years in neighbourhoods such as Thornhill and Willowdale is promptly torn down or converted into an estate home. Most are then put back on the market and sold for a few hundred per cent more than the last price.

Long story short, in these neighbourhoods the starter home is a thing of the past.

Bungalows were popular as post-war housing on the cheap and allowed families to move into growing Toronto neighbourhoods outside the downtown core. And thus it remained until economic incentives put in place by various governments started the never-ending parade of monster homes. 

Now what? In order to accommodate families who can’t afford to drop $3.5 million for a home and are forced to push further outward or upward, witness the increasing number of townhomes and condominiums.

Of course, local residents are upset that the character of their neighbourhood is being threatened, and there is little they can do about it. There are monster homes and condominiums on every avenue and thoroughfare from here to Barrie.

It got so bad that it seemed like the only way to preserve the local character of a neighbourhood was to declare it a Heritage Conservation District  or a heritage property and stop any changes at all. 

Then a couple weeks back, Toronto’s chief planner Jennier Keesmaat sent out a tweet about the demise of the Ontario Municipal Board, and everything is being seen in a new light.

The power is going to swing. Decisions will not be made and imposed on neighbourhoods by an unelected body.

Local residents are on a level playing field with developers, and the development companies may not like this scenario, but something has got to give.

Drop a 50-storey tower into a little neighbourhood in the very near future, and a councillor might not be so popular come next election.

There should be a place for all forms of development in any neighbourhood. Development that is efficient and focused on getting people out of their cars is sustainable and works with the neighbourhood, not against it. 

The key will be for residents to accept that change and that some increased density is inevitable.  Residents can’t fight everything just because they think things should stay the same. 

That notion is as out of touch as unchecked development.

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Ron Johnson is the editor of Post City Magazines. Follow him on Twitter @TheRonJohnson.

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