What is going on in Little Italy?

Seriously, someone needs to explain what is going on. Someone official. Maybe a city councillor or something.

The planning committee met this week and discussed a number of development proposals for Little Italy, as well as a number of zoning amendments. At the centre of this discussion was a proposal to develop a nine-storey building on Norman Street. An amendment to the secondary plan passed, allowing for the development. The debate, however, is about far more than one building.

There is a Preston-Carling Design Plan. There are, currently, zoning regulations for the neighbourhood, but what we saw this week were serial attempts to make ad hoc changes to the plan. It’s not even a matter of whether or not these buildings are right for the neighbourhood (I’m doubtful); it’s about determining appropriate zoning for a neighbourhood and then sticking to it.

It’s a stark difference to the Mizrahi proposal in Wellington West. In that case, we saw the planning committee stick to its guns and adhere to the carefully crafted requirements within the CDP. It’s actually a little weird that suddenly the planning committee would veer away from thoughtful, consistent and predictable development rules. In the past, council has been accused of being in the pocket of developers. The Mizrahi decision showed they weren’t. The Norman Street decision clouds things a bit.

Eric Darwin has chronicled the corrupted process that brought us to Tuesday’s meeting. The neighbourhood boundaries have been shifting and ill-defined. There has been little consistency in rules applied to similar streets. Though a wise building limit (four storeys) was established, the city has done everything it could to circumvent the limit. Worse, they embarked on a plastic public consultation process that was focused on selling a developer’s visions rather than gaining insight from the community.

The proposal must now be approved by full council next month. It would be prudent for council to put the brakes on this development until a separate assessment of the suitable development limits of the entire neighbourhood can be completed.

Of course, the developers–demonstrating their devotion to community, democracy and justice–have threatened to go to the Ontario Municipal Board if they don’t get their way. They’re petulant children.

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