mzo ontario

Ontario keeps fast-tracking big developments without public input and it's pissing people off

Most residents of Ontario probably hadn't heard of Minister's Zoning Orders before Premier Doug Ford's tenure, but they are the talk of the town these days as tension grows between our dire need for more housing and our hatred for wealthy developers that don't take public input into account.

Ford has been called out for his heavy-handed use of MZOs to fast-track developments, going over the heads of citizens when public forums are usually required, as well as of municipalities themselves.

To address the severe under supply of homes in our ever-growing and ever-more-expensive province — especially in the GTA — Ford's team have been trying to shorten the usual processes for completing condos and other projects.

While many can get behind the province's goal to build 1.5 million homes over the next ten years — an intimidating feat — people are generally not pleased with the complete razing of heritage buildings without residents or local councillors knowing or having their voices heard on the matter.

Likewise, when environmentally-sensitive lands that are supposed to be protected are eyed for new construction anyways, there is understandable backlash (and even, in the case of the Bradford Bypass, litigation).

And then there is the insult of not even trying to get citizens' or politicans' perspectives on what would be best for a neighbourhood before a project is slapped up without regard for those who will be most affected by it, their concerns about design, public uses, potential impacts and more completely overlooked.

It's understandably weird to think developers are able to completely skirt the normal steps involved in a given city's planning process without the city having any say, but the province has the authority to grant such powers in the name of expediting building and culling red tape.

As Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has said on the subject before, this method also means big out-of-town development companies can completely avoid public scrutiny, giving residents and councillors no right to appeal or even be consulted.

It has happened too many times in the last few months, and continues to be a growing trend, with one of the latest projects being the 38-acre site of the old Unilever soap factory, where complete demolition is now imminent thanks to yet another hasty approvals process.

Cadillac Fairview (CF), purveyor of malls etc., is behind what has been touted as the biggest commercial development in Canadian history in Toronto's East Harbour.

One of the many sprawling transit-oriented communities being planned for the city will sit at the elbow of the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway, where the abandoned historic factory sits.

In recent years, it has sat largely abandoned, serving as the grounds for a design festival but not preserved and converted into any better longer-term use.

Like the old Mr. Christie factory and its iconic watertower, a slew of shiny new condo towers, shops, office space and more will take over the land, which in this case will also house a station on the forthcoming Ontario Line subway.

The city will surely benefit with 10-million square feet of commercial space (enough for employment for over 50,000) along with 4,300 housing units (some of them affordable, too), but many are rightfully pissed at the lack of attempt to incorporate any of the cool existing structures into the design, or to consult locals for ideas.

This is the same around many of the stops on the new transit line, which are somewhat controversially being turned into these ginormous new hubs of highrises, providing tons of jobs and homes, but perhaps not exactly meshing well with the rest of the city, its history, and what its people imagine for its future.

Other GTA cities are seeing a similar push from the government to get things built, including Richmond Hill and Markham, where enhanced MZOs have been approved for new projects that residents are saying will render the areas completely unlivable.

Lead photo by

Rendering of the future East Harbour by Adamson Associates Architects for Cadillac Fairview


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