Toronto is finally ready to fight condo developers who block off roads and sidewalks
It looks like residents of downtown Toronto aren't alone in their annoyance with private construction companies blocking off roads and sidewalks for months at a time to build condos with seeming impunity.
The City of Toronto's Infrastructure and Environment Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to explore the "logistical and legal implications of eliminating right of way occupancy for private construction projects."
In other words, they could soon make it a lot tougher for developers to score permits for closing off public spaces to pedestrians, motorists, transit riders and cyclists.
"Traffic congestion is a significant problem for all Torontonians," wrote City Councillor Josh Matlow in a letter presented before the committee at City Hall on Thursday, noting that GTA residents currently suffer the longest commute times in North America.
"City policies have adapted to that reality and now encourage residents to take transit, walk, and bike," he continued. "However, the increased need for space on our streets has not been reflected in Toronto's policy for right-of-way occupancy by developers."
For far too long, the development industry has been able to close lanes across Toronto and put their profits before the public’s safe use of our sidewalks and roads. I’m offering a new approach at tomorrow’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee. https://t.co/UwhoSoT2TJ— Josh Matlow (@JoshMatlow) January 8, 2020
Matlow explained that the default position of the city right now is to grant private requests for lane and sidewalk closures, almost always.
"These closures can last upwards of 2 years. Recent successes with the King Street transit corridor and Bloor bike lanes have required use of the public right-of-way to be feasible," he notes.
"We cannot continue giving away our public space to private interests if we are going make similar improvements to other thoroughfares."
Matlow, who presides over the fast-growing neighbourhood of Yonge and Eglinton, is suggesting that the city essentially flip its right-of-way policy by automatically denying permits to private construction companies when they ask to block off public spaces.
Exceptions would be made of course, depending on circumstances, but Matlow says companies which do occupy roads and sidewalks for extended periods of time should provide the city with compensatory funds for affordable housing, childcare, or other vital services.
"It is important to note that, in most instances, the developer requires a portion of the right-of-way to construct their project only because it has been designed with a lot line-to-lot line footprint," noted the councillor in his letter.
"If the City does, in some instances, provide land to facilitate a larger building, it should be done in the public interest."
With the Infrastructure and Environment Committee on board, Matlow's motion will now go to City Hall for a final seal of approval.
Should all go well at that meeting on January 29, the city's General Manager of Transportation Services and Chief Planner will comprise a report on "implementing a new right-of-way occupancy permit policy that defaults to a denial of requests" to be delivered later this year.
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