Once a DPS was established for a specific neighbourhood, any development applications would be sent to the planning department, which would make sure that the proposal fit within the DPS’ framework. If a proposal didn’t, the City would automatically reject it and send it back to the developer, explaining why it doesn’t work.
Now, I am open to some sort of developer appeal system but I’m not clear on how that would work other than that it would require community involvement and the willingness to shoot down a proposal, regardless of how much cash is brought the table. So yes, in other words, my ideal DPS couldn’t be “bought” around.
But let’s say that a proposal does fit within the framework. The next step would be for the City to classify it. Shortly after coming up with a common vision for Toronto, planning would create a series of categories that all future development would be slotted into. So, you might have category E, which applies to minor changes like adding another storey onto a two-storey house that exists on a street that’s mostly three-storey houses. A category C might be applied to a project that would involve tearing down an existing house but replacing it with one that was of similar size and shape as the rest of the houses in the neighbourhood while a category A would be the most dramatic, putting in a new condo building that would be as big as the DPS allowed.
These categories are important because they would then decide the level of public feedback. The lower level, say category E, would have no public discussion about it. Instead, a project approved by the City and categorized as that would just go on its merry way.
Now, that’s not to say the public wouldn’t know about it. I think that there should still be informative signs posted,keeping people in the loop on what’s happening in their neighbourhoods. These signs would also contain a URL for the project. Each project would have its own web page that would contain more details, including estimated time lines, possible traffic disruptions and images of the completed project that feature it surrounded by its real-life neighbours (so no more renderings of a building that’s surrounded only by trees or my favourite, blue sky). I have more thoughts on how these pages would look and work but for now, I think you get the idea.
One element that higher category projects would have on their web pages would be a feedback form. While the highest category (maybe the highest two?) projects would automatically have a public consultation meeting, everything else would only get a meeting if enough people provided legitimate feedback. Yes, I realize that that sounds highly subjective but if these were a real system, checklists and other processes would be put in place to try to make things as fair as possible.
Ideally, the public consolation meetings work like this: The developer and its key people attend along with at least one planning employee (preferably one who was involved in creating the DPS), any concerned citizens and ward’s city councillor. Concerns are discussed, questions are answered, plans are modified and everyone walks away somewhat happy.
Of course, in real life, that won’t always be the case and this is where I get a bit lost. Say a DPS gives the thumbs up to mid-rise buildings along a certain road and a developer comes along with a proposal that fits perfectly within the approved framework. However, this new building would cast a shadow on a number of neighbouring homes, as well as impact their privacy. A meeting is held to discuss this and it’s quickly clear that for those homeowners, the only solution is not to build the new condo. What happens next?
My gut instinct would be to create a system where, if no compromise could be reached, the project would go to a made-in-Toronto version of the OMB that would feature a mixture of non-government planning professionals, City planning employees and members of the general public. It would examine the issues; deliver a verdict that could include modifying the project as well as rejecting or approving it and then that would be it.
While this approach wouldn’t always result in a happy ending for everyone, I do think that at minimum, it would allow everyone to have their say and at least like they’re involved in shaping the future of their city.
***Want to learn more about DPSs and share your thoughts on them? Then check out one of the DPS open houses set for this March. I think I might stop by the one on March 22 at the Reference Library.****