September 15, 2011
A member of Mayor Rob Ford’s executive says she will vote against his mall-and-monorail Port Lands vision that leading experts will blast Thursday as “ill-conceived, reckless,” and poised to do “irrevocable harm to the city.”
“Voting on something where there’s no business plan and there’s been no extensive public consultation — I ran on civic engagement — I can’t do it,” Robinson said in an interview in her city hall office.
“If you keep changing your vision, you’re never going to realize it . . . My position is I’m not supporting this proposal.”
Ford’s vision for the eastern waterfront will come under more fire Thursday with the 1:30 p.m. release at Toronto Reference Library of a strongly worded letter to council, signed by more than 140 experts in planning, architecture and design and obtained by the Star.
They say altering long-gestated plans for a mixed-use community with condos, retail, offices and parks around the Don River is “ill-conceived, reckless, and, if adopted, will result in irrevocable harm to the city.”
Heavy-hitter signatories include former City of Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford; urbanist Richard Florida; Eric Miller, director of the University of Toronto’s Cities Centre; and Richard Sommer, dean of the U of T Daniels faculty of architecture, landscape and design.
In six points, they attack the vision pushed by Ford and his councillor brother Doug that includes a monorail, Ferris wheel, “ice palace” in the former Hearn generating station, lots of condos, offices and less parkland for flood protection.
The academics accuse Ford of “flawed reasoning” for arguing Waterfront Toronto, started with $500 million each from the city, province and Ottawa, has made little progress. Noting developments including Sugar Beach, Sherbourne Common and the Corus building, they argue Ford’s approach will slow down progress because of added uncertainty and duplication of environmental approvals.
Ford’s argument that the current flood protection plan to remake the mouth of the Don River will gobble up valuable land is “absolutely false from both a real estate/land development, value creation and ecological perspective,” they say.
And the new vision, unveiled by the city’s Toronto Port Lands Co. at a meeting last week, isn’t bold or new but “shockingly inferior” and “a tired recycling of 1960s thinking. The Lower Don Lands are not Disney World.”
The current plan, they say, has plenty of retail in “active urban shopping streets” while Ford’s plan, with a large shopping centre, would hurt businesses in nearby retail strips and create a “transportation nightmare” for east-end residents.
Rather than city building, Ford’s plan seems to be “a desperate attempt to sell off extremely valuable city assets at bargain basement prices to offshore developers to raise a one-time contribution toward reducing the city’s deficit.”
The mayor declared last week: “We now have a plan. It is absolutely phenomenal. We are going to revitalize the Port Lands like you have never seen before.”
Waterfront Toronto has expressed willingness to review its plan, and one compromise being floated would see the city’s Port Lands Co. transform the Hearn plant into a sports palace and develop some land not included in Waterfront Toronto’s current plan.
Robinson, who was absent last week when Ford’s executive voted to start negotiating with senior governments to regain control of the land, said factors in her decision included flood protection.
She recently experienced Hurricane Irene in Cape Cod and said consultations with experts led her to favour Waterfront’s flood-control plan, with the new “naturalized” mouth for the Don River.
Robinson said there are possible changes to the Waterfront plan — residents want the development speeded up, and Robinson likes components of the rival plan including the “emerald necklace” of green space and playing fields — but transferring control is out of the question.
Asked what ramifications she expects from Ford for defying him on a major vote, the rookie councillor said: “I’m not going to speculate on that.”