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Resignations could come as early as this week
Christopher Hume – Toronto Star
Plans to build a sports complex on the Lower Don Lands have the Waterfront Design Review Panel so upset that all 12 members are preparing to resign if it goes ahead.
Those resignations could come as early as this week.
The blue-ribbon volunteer panel was created amidst much fanfare in 2005. Its members include some of the most respected architects, landscape architects and engineers in Canada.
Sources tell the Star that a letter of resignation has already been drawn up. It makes clear that if the city proceeds with the $32-million facility, which includes four ice pads and surface parking for 440 cars, it will have no choice but to sever ties with Waterfront Toronto.
Just weeks ago, respected planner, Ken Greenberg, resigned over the same athletic complex.
The major issue is location: the city wants to build the facility on land that has been set aside for a sustainable, transit-oriented, mixed-use neighbourhood. Details of that plan are now being refined by a team selected through an international design competition held in 2007. Though the scheme will not be realized for years, perhaps decades, the sports proposal would essentially render the plan useless.
According to a member of the design review panel, there are other waterfront sites where such a facility could be accommodated, but not on the Lower Don Lands.
Waterfront Toronto, the agency created in 2001 by the three levels of government to oversee waterfront revitalization, has said that the facility is not its “preferred option.”
The main champions of the athletic centre are Toronto Mayor David Miller and a deputy city manager named Richard Butts. They have clearly opted for expediency over excellence.
Butts, a career bureaucrat whose background is in garbage collection, has consistently rejected advice from Waterfront Toronto as well as independent planners.
The mayor, on the other hand, fought hard to be appointed to the board of Waterfront Toronto. But as one panel member put it, “Miller just doesn’t get it. He has become an obstacle.”
Three years ago, the city embarrassed the panel by overriding its objections to the Corus office building now nearing completion at the foot of Jarvis St. Despite the panel’s criticism that the building lacked the architectural quality appropriate for the first new construction on the waterfront, the project went ahead.
It was designed by Toronto architect Jack Diamond, who served as a campaign manager on Miller’s first mayoral run in 2003.
From the start, however, many observers argued that Waterfront Toronto doesn’t have the powers needed to fulfill its mandate. Without the ability to borrow money against the future value of its lands, it must forever wait for government funding. Given current economic conditions, that won’t be forthcoming anytime soon. The $1.5 billion promised a decade ago has now been largely committed and the agency is all but broke.
As a result, plans that would have transformed the bottom end of the city are now quietly being cut back or dropped altogether.
The design review panel will meet on Wednesday to discuss the athletic complex and other issues. By then, sources say, the letter of mass resignation will have been signed by all members.
For Miller, these developments will call into question his self-styled role as one of the greenest mayors in North America. It was he who lobbied to get the waterfront named one of 17 “large-scale urban projects” designated by the Clinton Foundation as “climate positive communities.”
But in a few short years we’ve gone from that to planning parking lots on waterfront land the city once touted as potentially the most desirable real estate in Toronto.