Submitted by Keith Thompson
To paraphrase T.S.Eliot – This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but the rumble of diesel bulldozers and the cracking snap of trees (so many trees) echoing through the wilds of Ontario’s rural Eden.
On Sunday, November 12th hundreds of people from across the urban and suburban city gathered at Dundurn Castle on York Boulevard to protest against the Ford government’s “More Homes Built Faster Act,” otherwise known as Bill 23. The bill is seen by many as a direct violation of the explicit and democratic decisions of this municipality to freeze the urban boundary. If passed, the Bill would see thousands of acres of farm and wetland paved over.
Bill 23 is a Trojan horse. On the surface, some of the proposed amendments (like the fee exemptions for affordable housing developers) seem to be a gift for pro-housing municipalities and activists. But a closer inspection betrays the reality of this legislation. The reality is that this will shift the financial burden from the province to the municipalities, and the ratepayers who will have to foot the bill for the “More Homes Built Faster” scheme. There is a lot to dislike about the proposed Bill 23. But one of the things that concerns me specifically is the proposed change to block third-party appeals at the Ontario Land Tribunal. Certainly, there is some benefit to this idea (in theory). In practice, OLT appeals have been used by the influential or powerful to block housing development in their communities. Their fear of young and poor people potentially living in their neighbourhood is often seen as the fear of diminished value in their homes. OLT appeals can be a useful tool. But they have often been used as a weapon of the rich against younger generations and economically disadvantaged folks. In this sense, blocking third-party appeals makes sense.
However, there are times that appeals are absolutely necessary, and represent the justified intervention of neighbourhood groups, communities and activists. In the North End specifically, OLT appeals are the last tool that we can rely on to attempt to mitigate some of the potentially more damaging decisions about developments in the community. Walk through the area and you’ll find plenty of evidence of the need to have a voice in planning matters. The Jamesville development has been sitting empty for far too long. It’s frustrating to walk past it every day and wonder how much longer it will be before we have people living there. We have a housing crisis, yes. But we also have a community crisis and the current plans for Jamesville do very little to address it. We are in desperate need of mixed use development where people can meet, mingle, interact, and invest in the relationships which sustain and maintain a healthy democracy. We need mixed use residential and commercial developments to provide for the types of walkable, vibrant communities that are client resilient, economically successful, and socially productive. The fact that there is no ground-level retail in the Jamesville development is an embarrassment. I’m not talking about convenience stores and cannabis shops, or big box chains and a KFC on the corner. I’m not asking for the whole of the Jamesville development to be retail along James from Strachan to Ferrie.
What I am asking for is a small coffee shop. A few little restaurants. Maybe a tutoring service or a dentist office, or an optometrist. Maybe a small stand-alone Wine Rack store or a simple community-led second-hand store. Maybe it’s an ice cream shop for people heading down to the Bay on a hot July weekend. I don’t know what’s possible, but right now I can tell you what isn’t; a complete mixed-use community that would provide additional tax revenue, support the neighbourhood economy and its local entrepreneurs, and provide people with the opportunity to work, eat, and play close to home. I’m not wishing for another strip mall. I’m hoping for a small provision for retail on a commercial street. Some place where we can walk and meet our new neighbours, even if it’s just as we pass through the cafe doors in the morning, or as we go to collect our eyeglasses prescription, or as we’re browsing for greeting cards or books, or knick-knacks for our shelves.
Whether it’s the proposal to overrule the democratic decision of the residents of Hamilton to freeze our urban boundary, or to limit the voices of legitimate concern when it comes to local planning…there’s a lot to dislike about Bill 23.