Mizrahi Development’s application to build a 12-storey tower in Wellington West (which I’ve written about…twice) is up for discussion at City Hall today. City planners have suggested that the application be rejected. It contravenes the Community Development Plan (CDP), which limits development to six storeys, and it even contravenes the special allowance for building up to nine storeys.
Interestingly, a number of residents have shown up to voice their support in favour of the development. This doesn’t really happen too often. Generally, people don’t want giant condos going into their neighbourhoods, but these residents argue that it’s a nice building, that Mizrahi has been very responsive and engaging with the community, and that the property is derelict and it really needs to be developed. They put forth a valid argument in favour of the development, and the anti-NIMBYism is a refreshing change.
But they’re still wrong.
The CDP was developed two years ago, creating the current zoning caps on height. When Mizrahi purchased the properties, they knew the zoning requirements (or should have) and they knew that it was a brownfield property (meaning it was contaminated and required an environmental clean up before development could proceed). They purchased the property anyway.
When they purchased the property, they, no doubt, factored in the zoning regulations and environmental issues when determining a reasonable price. Apparently, they also gambled that they would be able to break these zoning regulations. There is no other explanation as to why they claim that development is not economically feasible with the current regulations. If this is actually true (and I have my doubts), then they deliberately and intentionally overpaid, hoping that the city would bail them out. This is not the way city planning should happen.
CDPs are important. They are also crafted through an extended process that seeks to engage with as much of the community as possible, not just people who are able to show up at City Hall on a work day. They are not crafted on the fly. In fact, that is the point. Ad hoc planning–deciding on general guidelines but then, willy nilly, deciding to bend or break them–is irresponsible. It will harm neighbourhoods and make our city a little less enjoyable.
The speakers at City Hall may be correct that Mizrahi has been the most engaging and respectful developer to enter the neighbourhood. They may be correct that the property is derelict or that it is just far too contaminated to be developed. They may, in fact, be correct that a 12-storey building is perfectly fine for the neighbourhood (though that one’s a stretch). But none of these supposed facts are at issue today.
If Wellington West requires an altered CDP, if the city needs to change its brownfields policy, those are matters that should be discerned with proper reflection and with a defined process. We should not be changing the game for one developer or design we happen to kinda like. If we do this, we make all CDPs optional; we invite all developers to lobby for zoning changes (as long as they’re extra nice to some of the residents); we risk ruining a lot of our neighbourhoods.
It is unfortunate that Wellington West has contaminated land that is posing a barrier to development, but there are bigger issues here. It is easy to mock people who choose procedure over action, but we have taken the time to carefully craft these procedures so that decisions can be made thoughtfully and with the interest of the entire community in mind. These procedures weren’t established to hamper development. They were created to optimize it.