Candidates debate Quarry

Oct 26, 2014

Ward 36 candidates for Councillor

Ward 36 candidates

By Hedy Korbee

A lively all-candidates debate took place this week on an issue near and dear to the hearts of many voters in the western part of Ward 36: the future of the Quarry Lands at Gerrard and Clonmore.

Only four of the eight candidates turned out for the debate, hosted by the advocacy group Concerned Citizens of Quarry Lands Development (CCQLD), possibly because the fight for responsible development of the 40-acre parcel of land has a complicated history going back more than 50 years.

Community opposes high-rise towers

Artist rendering of high-rise towers proposed by Conservatory Group

Artist rendering of high-rise towers proposed by Conservatory Group

For the last 11 years, the community has been fighting a plan for seven 24-storey towers on the eastern portion of the land proposed by developer The Conservatory Group and based on zoning from 1968.

On the western portion of the land, Build Toronto, the City of Toronto’s arm’s-length development agency, is in the process of constructing a big box retail store and 200 low/mid-rise homes, surrounded by a 4.5 acre park.

The candidates in attendance were incumbent Gary Crawford, his chief rival in the 2010 election Robert Spencer, real estate agent Robert McDermott and newcomer Masihullah Mohebzada, and all were asked a series of questions posed by the CCQLD..

Question 1: What to do about the Ontario Municipal Board?

The first question was regarding the OMB’s 2012 decision to allow the high rise construction based on legacy zoning and candidates were asked what they would do to change the process to ensure responsible community building is taken into account in future decisions.

Sitting councillor Gary Crawford said he supported a request from the City of Toronto to the province to abolish the OMB and replace it with a local appeal body that is more sensitive to community development concerns.

Crawford also said he’s spoken to many developers who feel there’s no market for tall towers on the Quarry and that he’s confident the Conservatory Group will see the light once the low-rise community is approved.

“We are working with Build Toronto on the western portion and what we’re hoping is that once development starts, that it’s going to show GCD (Gerrard Clonmore Developments) that this is where the market is going and…I am confident they will come to the table to look at what is best suited for the area which is low-rise development and parkland.”

Robert McDermott, running for the second time in Ward 36 as part of a coalition to repeal the land transfer tax, stressed his own background as a real estate agent.

Robert McDermott headshot“I’ve gone to the OMB. I’ve worked with developers, small builders and clients who have gone to the OMB,” said McDermott. “We need a representative who has the expertise and knowledge of real estate.  You’re dealing with major development here.”

Although the Build Toronto plan is already well-developed, McDermott suggested it would be better to build something similar to the Shops of Don Mills.

Masihullah MohebzadaMasihullah Mohebzada, who frequently endorsed the ideas put forward in the debate by other candidates, agreed with McDermott on the Don Mills concept.

Robert Spencer, who placed second to Crawford in the 2010 election, told a story about his elderly aunt breaking her hip and proposed that the private developer should be convinced to build a nursing home.

Robert Spencer headshot“What’s very clear to me, in part because of my own advancing age, is that there’s an increasing need for good quality nursing space and medical space in this area. what I would like to do is approach the development with an understanding that this guy wants to build a billion and a half dollars he wants to make money….So we have to come up with proposals that make economic sense to them and approach it from that rationale”

Spencer suggested that the developer should be encouraged to come back to the table to build low-rise housing with a nursing home near the tracks, instead of the Walmart.  (Editor’s note: The retail component is actually on the side of the property controlled by Build Toronto and there is no confirmation as of yet that the tenant will be Walmart).

Question 2: How to engage the developer?

The second question from the CCQLD asked the candidates to explain how they would engage the developer in the event it becomes necessary to cut a deal.

Once again, Crawford responded first and described his meetings with the Conservatory Group over a number of months to try to execute a land swap – giving the developer a parcel of land near the Scarborough Town Centre so that Build Toronto could have exclusive control over the Quarry.

When the talks fell apart, Crawford said they proceeded to plan B, which he described as an “ace in the hole”.

View: Looking west from Gerrard at the proposed Build Toronto development in the Quarry

“We’ve created a one-foot buffer zone around the entire perimeter of the Build Toronto property,” Crawford said.  “If the developer wants to have egress access to the property he actually has to come to planning, he has to come to City to have that discussion. Without that buffer zone he could apply for the permit and he could build immediately just like that.”

Robert McDermott reiterated that he has real estate skills, knowledge and experience and “knows how developers think”.

“I would set up a meeting with the developer. I would set up a meeting with members and CCQLD and sit down and discuss a compromise and negotiate a deal that would be good for everybody.

Masihullah Mohebzada responded by saying “developers are here to make money” and  “we need something that will get developers money back in their pocket”.  At that point he endorsed both Robert Spencer’s concept of a nursing home (“a really good idea”) and a suggestion by Robert McDermott for low-rise commercial.

Quarry Lands, Gerrard & Clonmore

Quarry Lands, Gerrard & Clonmore

“We need to speak to the community members about what we need,” said Mohebzada.  “What kind of a services do they need? Maybe a rec centre?”

Robert Spencer harkened back to the days when David Crombie was mayor and spoke about his own work on the 56-acre property that is now the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood – a low/mid-rise community that abuts the Gardiner Expressway.

Spencer said the project was about the same size as the Quarry:

“I would propose to work with CCQLD and other development partners, not necessarily just Conservatory Group, to bring them together to talk about the needs in the area and try to develop an overall plan that works and is profitable.”

Spencer warned the audience that the mandate of Build Toronto is to make money and stressed that the city-owned agency must be forced to look at the social aspects of the development.

Question 3: How to best communicate with constituents?

The third question from the CCQLD asked the candidates how they would communicate with residents about the Quarry.  Crawford described his outreach strategy, which consists of email blasts, pamphlets, social media and public meetings.

“We have over the last three years had seven to eight public meetings, where legislation suggests we don’t have to have any.  When I met with Build (Toronto), I told them you need to get out to the community. They need to understand what is happening. They need to participate and be on board.”

About 75 people attended  Monday's all-candidates debate

About 75 people attended Monday’s all-candidates debate

Robert McDermott said that public consultation is the most important part of any kind of development but was unaware of the years of advocacy on the issue by former Ward 36 Councillor Brian Ashton.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know if this (consultation) happened because the last councillor was in for 26 years, I don’t know what he did as far as consultation goes. But it’s an important process.”

Masihullah Mohebzada said that communication is key and said he would set up a website about the Quarry and use social media to connect with constituents.

Robert Spencer compared the proposed high-rise development to the new Conservatory Group subdivision west of Loblaws, even though the latter parcel of land was not affected by legacy zoning, and said a similarly good result was possible.

“These guys can be influenced by good communication, a good understanding of marketing and a reasonable level of experience at the Council table,” said Spencer.  “I actually believe that we can produce something that really is exciting in this part of Scarborough Southwest.

Meeting became heated

The meeting became most heated after the CCQLD questions, when a member of the audience asked what the candidates would do to ensure that the developer provided facilities and services to the community under Section 37 of the Planning Act.

Robert Spencer said that S. 37 came up at the OMB in November 2012 and criticized Councillor Crawford for not making a presentation at the hearing.

It’s a point Spencer has raised before and publicizes through a sponsored tweet and it made Crawford visibly angry.

Ward 36 Councillor Gary Crawford

“I was there and Mr. Spencer wasn’t there,” Crawford said.  “It’s not common practice for a city councillor to speak before the OMB. What is common practice is that they send the right and proper legal people and planning people, which I voted to do. Mr. Spencer, this was his number one issue in the last election. And you know what? he didn’t even show up for the most important part of that process.  He wasn’t there folks. And you know what,  He pretty much disappeared after election….I was there fighting every inch of the way for you.”

Robert Spencer headshotSpencer asked for a rebuttal but did not dispute that he didn’t go to the meeting, which was attended by many members of the community.

“I was extremely upset that the councillor did not speak. Remember, I lost the election. I had to go and work somewhere else. That’s sort of normal. So yes, I stayed engaged in the community.  I’m engaged in the city very dramatically as most of you know. But I was not at that hearing.”

As part of the exchange, Spencer said it was important that the community comes up with strong proposals in order to achieve benefits from the developer under Section 37.

Crawford informed Spencer and the audience that the Conservatory Group paid their Section 37 money 25 years ago when they bought the property and could not be compelled to spend more.
Election Day is October 27, 2014. Find out when and where to vote by clicking here.

Hedy Korbee is a journalist who lives in Birch Cliff. Full disclosure: Hedy was a de facto member of the CCQLD Board of Directors from 2003 – 2012.

1 Comment

  1. Carroll Lefebvre

    I don’t live in the area…my 90 year old mother does and has been there since 1952. We have seen so many changes in Ward 36 that it’s hard to recognize many of my childhood “haunts”. I have had to deal with Cllr. Crawford on behalf of my Mom several times, and I have always been very impressed and satisfied with the way he handles important issues and his constituents. He even took the time to visit my Mom during her 90th BD party to deliver a proclamation to her on behalf of the acting mayor…this was in the summer on a weekend…a day, I’m sure he would have rather spent with his family. I only wish I lived back “home”. I know where I would be putting my vote. Good luck, Cllr. Crawford.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *