April 1, 2019

Statement on Preserving our Character Neighbourhoods

Reckless development approved by the unaccountable Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) have been an ongoing challenge for Toronto's low-rise commercial businesses and character neighbourhoods for decades. I have made it my priority to fight for affordable housing and community-responsive policies that support special character and historic areas. To date, I am proud to say that I've had four significant victories on these fronts.

1. Abolished the OMB

The Church-Wellesley Village has been an example of some of the most egregious over-development in Toronto. While City Planning staff, City Council and I refused bad application after bad application, developers routinely went to the OMB to get their approvals circumventing the local planning process often over the objection of area residents.  This is what happened at 40 Wellesley Street East, 50 Wellesley Street East, 81 Wellesley Street East, 70-72 Carlton Street, and 411 Church Street, just to name a few locations. After years of advocacy from myself and others at City Council, the former Liberal government finally began the process of dismantling the OMB in 2018 and replacing it with a Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). The last of the appeals under the older OMB system are being heard now.

2. Eliminated the Vacant Commercial Unit Tax Rebate Program

For some time, the City of Toronto provided a rebate to property owners with vacant commercial properties. This dis-incentivized renting commercial units out and left many storefronts empty, as was the case in the Village. I was very pleased to be on the winning side of the vote and to see this regressive tax credit repealed in July 2018.  Furthermore, I have direct and personal experience as a former Church Street business owner and co-founder of the Church-Wellesley Village BIA, in understanding the unique challenges facing the small business operator.  This is why I actively encourage commercial owners to apply for the Commercial Facade and Property Improvement Grant and take advantage of the government programs available to enhance and make more accessible the neighbourhood retail environment. (INSERT IMAGES FROM CHU ARCHITECTS)

3. Established New Heritage Conservation Districts

The very architectural history and built-form character of many of our neighbourhoods have been diminished with new developments replacing iconic buildings with towers that are out of place. With the enthusiastic support of neighbourhood associations, I have completed several heritage studies, including the Historic Yonge Street and Garden District Heritage Conservation Districts, to ensure that all new applications are vigorously vetted against Toronto's heritage standards and all new buildings must fit in with that character – including small-scale, fine-grain commercial opportunities in new podiums.

4. Capped Commercial Property Tax Surges

Finally, Toronto's municipal tax increases have remained very low and stable for years. However, there has still been disproportionate tax hikes that have cost many small business owners their livelihoods. In early 2017, small business owners on Yonge Street faced tax increases of up to 400%, based on real estate speculation driving up the Province's assessments for the area. I convened meetings with small business owners, the City's leading tax policy experts, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) and other political leaders to find a way forward. Thankfully, I was able to achieve an almost immediate 50% relief after uncovering significant oversights and subsequently worked with the Chair of Economic and Development to implement an interim tax cap in 2018 and 2019 to prevent uncontrolled tax escalation. Revenue Services staff have been given direction to report back on long-term solutions. This literally saved many small businesses on Yonge Street and across Toronto.  A new policy package and permanent solution will be presented in Q3 of 2019 to offer long-term relief and prevent similar issues from arising in the future.  

Tristan Downe-Dewdney

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