NEWS April 30th, 2015

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Leasiders come out swinging against condo plan

Towers on Sunnybrook Plaza site seen as poor fit for neighbourhood

Not in our neighbourhood.

That was the message delivered Tuesday night by about 150 Leaside residents to developer RioCan during a lively community consultation meeting at Leaside Memorial Gardens, where they argued against a proposal to build a 13-storey and a 19-storey condominium tower at Bayview and Eglinton, on the site currently occupied by Sunnybrook Plaza.

The tone was set by Kate Whitehead, one of more than a dozen residents to take a turn at the microphone, when she told urban planner Craig Hunter, who was there on behalf of RioCan, that “pictures of families playing in the park, pictures of tree-lined streets” she envisioned seeing in “cheery brochures” would be “the very thing that will be destroyed by the development.”

Elaine Bittis, who before the meeting had researched the city’s planning documents, compared them to RioCan’s proposal and handed out copies of her results to attendees, also commanded the crowd’s attention with her arguments.

She even used the projector and laser pointer being used by John Andreevski, the senior city planner in charge of the application, to support her case.

Bittis drew applause by articulating the city’s concern that the proposal would not transition effectively between the towers and the residential neighbourhoods next door. She cited the recent Eglinton Connects study, which notes that Leaside is under consideration for heritage status and that new developments in the area should comply with heritage guidelines.

She also expressed concern with RioCan’s compliance with the city’s public space guidelines, which require developers to set aside 5–10 percent of a new proposal’s land for public use.

“They’re trying to create this larger sidewalk and count that as urban meeting space,” Bittis said.

Andreevski discussed the city’s concerns with the proposal, including its height and density and transition between nearby residential neighbourhoods. But the meeting was dominated by residents who lined up for an opportunity at the microphone. Much of the discussion revolved around a phrase in the city’s Official Plan regarding the so-called Bayview Focus Area, which spells out that development on the lands will be “predominantly mid-rise in height and form.”

Hunter said from the developer’s point of view “predominantly midrise” means tall buildings can be constructed in key areas, such as the Bayview-Eglinton location of Sunnybrook Plaza, which RioCan owns.

“In the right location, we believe that some extra height on the site can be accommodated by looking at things like privacy, overlook, shadow impacts, and traffic impacts and service impacts,” he said.

Hunter, who had mentioned that RioCan was complying with the city’s public space guidelines during his presentation, responded to the passionate speeches of Whitehead and Bittis by saying he would not try to rationalize the developer’s goal.

“I’m in a forum where people clearly have a different point of view from me,” he said, but noted he has been in “meetings of this scale debating very similar issues just as passionately on four- and six-storey buildings.”

Ward 26 councillor Jon Burnside said he hopes RioCan will submit a new, “more reasonable” application after seeing the community’s reaction.

“(RioCan) has been our neighbour for almost 20 years,” he told the crowd. “They’ve profited from being our neighbour for 20 years, and now I feel that they’re really trying to take advantage of the neighbourhood by using a loophole to their own ends.”

He told the Town Crier afterward he is “just hoping that RioCan listens.”

“They want to be part of the community, they need to respect the community,” he said.

When asked for comment, Hunter replied with a terse, “Nothing further tonight.”