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

North Toronto Post - - News - By An­gela Hen­nessy

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.

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