Midtowners have found a new way to fight condos
Raising money through crowdfunding is helping many associations level the playing field and create a powerful new weapon to stop unwanted development
Crowdfunding is a method of fundraising online via social media. It has financed feature films, launched countless businesses and raised needed funds for hundreds of charities.
Now, residents’ associations in Toronto that are advocating against potentially damaging development proposals have tapped into the Internet phenomenon to finance costly trips to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to argue their cases on a level playing field against massive development companies, including the hiring of lawyers and urban planners that can run upwards of $30,000.
Toronto residents are fighting to have their voices heard at a very exclusive table: one often designated for developers, city officials and members of the OMB.
In Leaside, a GoFundMe account has been set up and is appealing to the need to stand up to deep-pocketed builders and to protect our neighbourhoods.
“This ruling on this development will be precedent setting for the Leaside community. A high rise development on this site would open the door for overdevelopment throughout our community, especially along the Eglinton corridor,” reads a portion of the appeal.
It’s not the first time local residents have taken to the Internet to raise money to battle a development. In 2013, Kensington Market locals took to crowdfunding website Projexity.com and raised more than $30,000 to fight a proposed Walmart on Bathurst Street that they thought would negatively impact the unique small businesses in the cherished neighbourhood.
It’s a well-worn story heard often during the current condominium development boom in North Toronto, where the majority of high-density proposals end up being decided at the OMB, often with an inadequate representation from the neighbourhood.
“RioCan had indicated that they were going to go ahead with a development proposal on Eglinton, and it is entirely out of line for this neighbourhood. Clearly that was the view of the community, and we felt a need to fight it,” said Adam Brueckner, whose property backs onto the development lot in question at the northeast corner of Bayview Avenue and Eglinton Avenue East, currently home to Sunnybrook Plaza.
Brueckner has worked alongside other members in the community to start a website and a crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe to raise funds to hire legal counsel in order to represent their interests against the proposed development at 660 Eglinton Ave. E.
“We quickly found out to do this effectively you can argue about it and complain, but at the end of the day, you need to take it to the OMB. In order to fight it, we needed representation,” he added.
Together with the Leaside Property Owners Association (LPOA), residents are hoping to raise $30,000 to cover legal fees.
They had already raised over $12,000 by mid-August, and the LPOA had obtained legal counsel and a City of Toronto planner.
“Unless we have a lawyer and a planner the chances are very small. This gives you a seat at the table at the OMB. Without us there, it would be the city and the developer, and what often happens in that case is they will make a deal,” said Brueckner.
They strike deals to build parks or make some of the space public; to pay certain fees that go toward community improvement or public art projects; or to scale back in their total build.
But residents don’t always reap these benefits. Parks aren’t always put up in the area that was effected, and once a highrise goes up in your backyard, it’s usually there to stay.
An online survey has been done in the Leaside community that collected 257 responses in order to prioritize the key issues. That information will be used to help their legal counsel identify the major issues and determine what is best for the community as a whole.
According to the GoFundMe, some of the concerns for the lot at 660 Eglinton Ave. E. include its excessive height and that it will exacerbate existing traffic congestion and further endanger pedestrians.
In addition, it was determined that in the opinion of local residents it is not of appropriate design for the community.
Often when development proposals go to the OMB, concerns of residents aren’t addressed properly without legal representation.
“One of the reasons residents are not always involved is because of the cost, and that’s one of the challenges, so this is a creative and good idea,” said Jon Burnside, councillor for Ward 26, which includes Leaside.
“They’ve got some tech-savvy creative people over there. I had suggested that they get their own lawyer because the problem is the city lawyer and planned work for the city. Sometimes the needs and the desires do meet, but quite often don’t line up,” he added.
Burnside said although the LPOA has been involved in other OMB cases, it can be difficult to tackle every issue.
“The LPOA have been involved in other OMB cases, but they have to pick their spots because of other issues,” he said. “If it’s accessible, it’s a great way to level the playing field between community groups and developers.”
Crowdfunding could change the future of how development deals are done at the OMB.
“Bake sales seem to have gone by the wayside,” said Geoff Kettel of FONTRA, the federation of all ratepayers in the north end of the city.
Kettel added that it’s not uncommon for residents’ groups to raise funds for legal representation at the OMB, and that residents’ associations, such as the LPOA, are a crucial part of all of this.
“At their best they are a fundamental expression of grassroots democracy and are vital to maintaining livable communities,” he said.
But popular crowdfunds can sometimes earn wild amounts of money and could work toward transforming what residents’ groups can do. OMB decisions have long caused tension and anger amongst residents in Toronto who often feel that decisions favour those with deep pockets.
The LPOA is often the strongest voice in these discussions.
“We are very happy to be working with the residents, and it’s a fight that is really a very important one, to protect the Eglinton Connect intention, which is that there should be mid-rise, not a highrise,” Carol Fripp of the LPOA said.
“Crowdfunding is a new development. We live in a new world. We are interested to see how it works, and we encourage them to do it. And if necessary we will go beyond crowdfunding.”
A developer has proposed two towers for the Sunnybrook Plaza site at 660 Eglinton Ave. E.