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It's a new planning era, but with the same old problems

This week's Market Squared looks at how the more things change, the more they stay the same.
A 24-unit stacked townhouse building is proposed to replace this plaza at 140 Hadati Rd.

Before Tuesday’s planning meeting I was wondering what these meetings are going to look like in the post-Bill 23 era, and it turns out that they look almost exactly the same as they did in the last term. The consistency is nice, I guess, but these our dangerous times to be consistent, and the message from the Government of Ontario on housing has been clear: Move fast and break things!

Our setting was 140 Hadati Road, a small plaza in the east end with two commercial spaces, but only one of them is presently in use. The property owner wants to tear it down and replace it with 24 stacked townhouses with maximum height and density plus minimum parking and yardage.

Can you think of a terribly compelling reason why area residents have a beef with this?

This is a play that’s been staged repeatedly around all kinds of projects. The visceral reaction of any neighbourhood where a change is proposed is rejection, and they’re usually based on the same set of criteria: more height, more traffic, more people accessing the same limited amenities, and so on. It’s why people take it personally when you give their concerns a particular name.

“When Mayor Guthrie mentioned at the end of the meeting that it all sounds a little bit like ‘Not In My Back Yard’, I took that to heart,” Leslie Boutlbee told me Thursday. She helped co-ordinate area residents in delegating to city council this week and manages a Facebook group called “Happy Hadati” an online focal point to share information and come up with solutions.

“I'd like to understand what made him feel that way so that we can approach it differently. (NIMBY)'s not the objective here because it’s just going to create enemies, and it's going to put councillors in the middle,” Boutlbee added. “The whole objective is to create a dialogue and figure out what works.”

I met Boutlbee outside 140 Hadati to get a sense of the area and to try and visualize the concerns of her group. I should note that I don’t normally do this, but I’m interested in looking at this application as a test case for the post-Bill 23 era. How will developers respond? How will residents, City staff and council?

In this new era, there’s no doubt the upper hand has been given to developers, and at the meeting this new power dynamic got off to a rocky start when the agent for the owner offered vague assurances that the parking problem is not going to be a problem. You see, anyone interested in buying at this future complex is going to know they only get one parking space and act accordingly.

I’m seeing this playout in my own part of town. My elderly next door neighbour recently moved out to go into assisted living, and her house went on the market a few weeks ago. It’s still on the market. Why? It only comes with one parking space in our complex, much to the shock and consternation of the people seeing the house.

Back on Hadati Road, residents are still waiting for some facetime with the developer and their reps. And yes, you might have heard that they’re willing to talk to area residents and have even done some initial door knocking, but have they?

“I am literally right beside behind this store, so if they're going to knock on anybody's door, it would have been mine,” Boutlbee retorts. “I work from home, I'm home every day, and they did not knock on my door. So they're saying all the right things to the councillors, and they're playing the game properly, but I'm not sure that they're actually following through with the actions they’re talking about.”

Boutlbee was careful with her words because she doesn’t want to make this another “us versus them” conflict that can be written off as one of those NIMBY slap fights. She says she and the neighbours who are a part of her group agree that redevelopment might be for the best, but they want to have a say.

Looking around I had to agree 24 stacked townhouses in this spot are going to stick out like a sore thumb, and one wonders if the “Happy Hadati” approach might be successful. There were no sweeping allegations about developer greed, just a general concern about the impact.

Is it possible for “soft power” to work at a planning meeting when the Province has empowered developers, municipalities, and mayors to build housing at all costs?

“It would be nice if the developers included us ahead of time, and got to know what was important,” Boutlbee said. “I understand why they don't want to do that because they're going to hear ‘don't do anything’, but that's also why I really wanted to send the message that we know you need to develop, it's okay, it's just *what* you're going to develop.”

At a planning workshop this week, GM of planning Krista Walkey warned about longer planning meetings, quicker timelines, and less detailed proposals coming to council once the dust of Bill 23 has settled. If we’re going to get 90 minutes of delegates every time something as straightforward seeming as the plan for 140 Hadati comes forward, is that going to make the planning process any smoother?

That was the supposed point of Bill 23 to begin with.

Now that all the cards drawn are working in favour of the developers, it will be interested to see if their magnanimous with that power. So far, it doesn’t seem like we’re off to a promising start.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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