Councillor Saundercook responds to the BWVRA

Dear Members of the BWRA,

I am writing in response to a recent communication from Greg Hamara and Steve McNally addressed to the membership regarding an application to develop 2442 Bloor Street West (the former Odeon site).

First, I voted against this application – twice. Once at Community Council and again at City Council. It is perplexing Mr. Hamara and Mr. McNally chose not to include this information in their letter.

As I made clear to my colleagues, the application failed to address important community concerns. That is why I opposed it, and encouraged my colleagues to do the same.

I organized five community consultation meetings on this application over two years. I facilitated an intense process of community consultation, largely unprecedented in the history of this City for applications of this kind. Early in my term, I encouraged the community to sponsor a visioning study for Bloor West Village. When this study came to fruition it proved very helpful for this application, as I expect it will for future applications. The study provides a roadmap for the community and planning staff to evaluate development applications. City staff incorporated elements of the study into their report, and residents referred to the report during these consultations.

I chose not to publicly declare a position on the application during the consultation process because I felt it important to encourage constructive dialogue between the applicant and the community to achieve the best possible result for our community. Had I publicly declared opposition to the application during the process as some would have preferred, it is unlikely the applicant would have made himself available for any further negotiation or dialogue. It is important to note that the applicant did make changes as a result of this dialogue – this is not the same 13 storey building presented to us two years ago.

This is also not the result we hoped for. I share the disappointment of many in the community after so much time and effort. I also share the concerns of residents with the planning process; the new City of Toronto Act will make positive changes to address these issues when it comes into effect after being passed by the Legislature. But I take exception to the notion I was wasting the community’s time by engaging in the public consultation process. I do not regret trying to facilitate consultation and dialogue between the developer and the community in the hopes of achieving a better result. That was my duty, as your Councillor.

I consider it my job to do what I can to support the efforts of resident associations. At the request of the BWRA executive, I facilitated one on one meetings between BWRA executives and the owner, his architect, and senior city planning staff on many occasions. Indeed, I worked hard to encourage a positive, productive working relationship for the BWRA with city staff. I have made myself and my staff available at every opportunity when requested by Mr. Hamara and the executive.

My office receives many requests for use of public funds available to my office for promoting events and meetings organized by various resident associations in Ward 13. For example, I used funds from my office to print meeting notices for several BWRA general meetings. Responsible organizations are careful to differentiate opinion from fact based communications. Executive members should accurately represent their membership when distributing these materials.

Although the result was disappointing, we should not overlook the fact that so many residents became engaged with their local community through this process, many for the first time. The contributions made by each and every resident were invaluable. We should not be disheartened. Instead, we must do what we can to make sure residents remain active and engaged in our shared pursuit of a better community.

Sincerely,

Councillor Bill Saundercook
City of Toronto, Ward 13