I HAVE BEEN TOLD I DESERVE
“A FULL LIFE THAT ISN’T JUST ABOUT FIGHTING FOR THINGS”

On 2006.02.07, the Toronto & East York Community Council meeting discussed the staff report that recommended that the application for rezoning of what would become the Foundry District be refused and that the applicant be opposed at the OMB. It also recommended that the City begin settlement talks with the applicant. (“Settlement talks” and “backroom deal” seem roughly synonymous here.) I attended the meeting and took notes.

Speakers (‘deputants’)

  • Sharon Howarth:
    Not present.

  • Ken Ferguson: Volunteers to speak last and be helpful in addressing other deputants’ concerns. Chair disagrees and doesn’t want a discussion of what’s fair and isn’t. Chair wants direction of council.

    Paula Fletcher: Madam Chair, that’s pretty much standard practice here – that we hear from the applicant at the end.

    Voice from audience: Will we have an opportunity to ask questions after?

  • Richard Walker: I was going to give a sloppy and heartfelt speech today, but I think it would be better if we just got to the cold hard facts. The redeveloping or rezoning of this property would simply mean downward slope, the demise of the film industry. The loss of jobs and the demolition of 240,000 square feet that are needed for the film industry at the moment. We would like to believe the film industry is self-sufficient or can stand on its own, but [we need the Americans, who are coming this month and next], and the loss of this square footage will not help things. We lost four huge projects last year – The Hulk, X-Men 3, and the Superman project. However, we didn’t have the square footage for them. We’ve even hemorrhaged a lot of square footage since the Americans finished last year.

    Since the megastudio isn’t open yet, we don’t know [when that space will become available]. In a word, our lack of shooting space and our ineptness in providing the Americans [with] square footage will result in the demise of the film industry in Toronto. This is no joke…. Please take more time to consider this than you did with the megastudio. I beg of you.

    [Fletcher asks about the report.]

    Walker: It doesn’t matter what you put in there. If it’s rezoned, it results in the loss of 240,000 square feet of shooting space.

  • Teri-Lynn Leeking: Chair of Friends of the Studio District, a community-based group of local residents, business owners, and film-industry employees. Are actively working to keep the restricted industrial protected industrial area, in opposing the rezoning, in revitalizing and strengthening the District, and in following up on the environmental status report.

    We are concerned about cleanup measures to be taken, particularly on groundwater, dust, and, most importantly, human health. Also maintaining the character of the areas and opposing building heights above four storeys.

    Have 500 signatures to a petition opposing the rezoning. Asks Council to support the February 1, 2006 staff report and defend this item at the OMB.

  • David Sit: Not present.

  • Charles Braive: Wants to speak after Ken Ferguson. Chair tells them that the applicant goes last. So you are refusing my request? (Chair: Yes.) Is a freelance production manager, working in the business since 1982. TFS soundstages are essential to the health of our industry, giving producers competitive prices at a central location close to hotels and downtown, which is attractive to actors and producers. It’s a huge logistical advantage to attracting production to Toronto. Other types of infrastructure have located close to the Studio District in Ward 30. Instead of production dollars going to NZ, Europe, Eastern Europe, and western Canada, it goes here.

    Approving the rezoning could result in the dispersal of talent throughout Canada. Have already lost Etobicoke, Pharmacy Ave., Queen’s Quay, Corktown, and other studios (or are in the process of being closed). Many of those, including TFS, were reused from previous industrial uses. Older studios are relatively cheap to rent compared to new ones such as the type that Mr. Ferguson will build in the port lands. If the rezoning allows residential uses, it means there can be no more studios built there. Studios cannot be built on lands zoned for industrial use.

    The city has only a finite supply of land. A very small portion of land is zoned for industrial uses. If this rezoning occurs, the city will lose many acres of industrial employment land, and this land supports more than just film-industry uses.

    The City’s new Official Plan does not provide a way to replace industrial land. New industrial land can be created only by an act of Council itself. Is this sort of change economically sustainable? We believe the Studio District is an asset to the City of Toronto. An example would be the incentives used at the Kings. Let’s send a clear message to City Council that we want to revitalize the Studio District, not rezone it.

    Presents a petition. Asks that any working committees include working representatives from the film industry, because to his knowledge thus far they have not.

    Fletcher: Earlier, Ms Leeking talked about the heights. I just wanted to ask if you are aware there are no height restrictions in the current zoning and that would be maintained?

    A. Yes.

    Fletcher: Is the community aware of that? [He thinks not.] [Asks if, under an employment rezoning, there would be no height restriction.]

    A. We’d all like to see a height restriction.

    Q. Do you understand that if there’s no rezoning for residential, that automatically means the studios stay?

    A. Not necessarily automatically means the studios stay. We hope that Mr. Ferguson could find a buyer for the studio. We understand it could be rezoned for other uses including big-box retail – we’ve heard that threat. I’m not personally in favour of that, but it’s years down the road. Just two weeks ago [a sound studio] was crashed into by a Greyhound bus [and it’s scheduled for Commissioners parkland anyway]; why couldn’t they move to our district?

    Q. How do we make somebody move?

    A. You offer incentives. I’ve heard that they’ve possibly offered incentives to other people who’ve bought Canada Metal [e.g., Mayor Miller’s reputed offering of tax incentives]. You can’t force someone to move somewhere, but you can certainly encourage them.

  • John Karmusch: Not present. Woman says he sent correspondence that isn’t in the clerk’s list, so he’ll resend it.

  • Michael Rosenberg: I would particularly like to support the height limits, particularly along Eastern Ave. and along Lake Shore. Some of the plans have shown taller buildings on Lake Shore and on Eastern Ave. If there have to be taller buildings, it should be in the interior of the block. I think that particularly Eastern Ave. already has a particular character of height, and that should definitely not be changed. True to a significant extent on Lake Shore as well. An option which is not often considered by the planning department is: If you have to have taller buildings in an area, they should be in the interior of the block away from the main streets.

    But in this case simply a height limit of four storeys for the whole area would be acceptable as well. The new Official Plan isn’t going to have heights in it, but that does not prevent a bylaw being enacted that would have height limits, as an amendment.

  • Mr. Milorad Novic: A year ago wrote a petition about traffic on Dundas to Kingston. I’m in opposition to this motion.

    Chair tries to clarify that we’re talking about Eastern Ave. He reassures us that’s why he’s here. Some lengthy diatribe about freedom and organizations affecting “every sphere of public life.” “Motions must be dismissed and to save taxpayers’ money and peace of mind of neighbourhoods. And if motion is passed, I am going to go from door to door to saying motion should be going.”

    [Q&A with Fletcher trying to make sure he really understands. Not sure he does. Something to do with expenses at OMB.]

  • Ken Ferguson: I don’t have much to add to the staff report. We have reviewed it. We are continuing to review it. We are not certain we are in agreement with every aspect of the staff report, but it is a step forward. In regard to the recommendation to work toward a settlement, we’re very much in favour of that. We very much would like to reach an agreement with the city. To that extent, we have met as recently as yesterday to talk about the parameters, but in the context of all of the recommendations that come out of that report and so forth, we’re not sure [where we are yet], but there’s dialogue and we think that’s good.

    [Keeping studios there:] This is a very difficult situation for us. As you all know, we’re taking on a mammoth project that has not been taken on in this city or this country in terms of its complexity or its cost. To be told that we need to do that… while at the same time maintaining old studios that are frankly on their last legs, difficult to maintain, is a very difficult situation to us. We have said repeatedly to the film industry that we will keep those studios open and operating at least until Phase 1 of Filmport is there, and at least as long after that as is viable. Surely you wanted all of our efforts put there [at the new site], and not something carried on on the side.

    To ask us to be going forward to Filmport at the enormous risk, the enormous undertaking, [yet] “we’d like to keep you as cheap studio space” is a very difficult situation. We do appreciate what Charles Braive is saying. We’re also working against provincial policy [with a tax credit discriminatory toward Canadian productions filmed in Toronto vs. Hamilton]. I’ve not seen Charles Braive in my studios in a long time, and I would question his reasons for being there if he did because he would be throwing away his money if he didn’t go down to Hamilton.

    It’s really a non-starter. It’s time we all came to terms about that. We like the Studio District. It’s put Toronto on the map. But every one of those other studios has disappeared to go on to another use, some of them at the City’s doing – the East Bayfront and West Don Lands, others because they became more valuable for redevelopment. We’re the ones that are being asked to stay, yet we’re the ones that are being asked to build this very complex project.

    At our last community meeting, we heard about densities, we heard about heights. We’ve taken those comments very, very seriously. This has to be a built-in-Leslieville, built-in–South Riverdale solution, and we’re very much in favour of doing that.

    Michael Walker: You’re not saying there was any condition with this application in your approval to build the Filmport?

    Ferguson: We’ve been an open book from the beginning. Everyone knew we were going to redevelop our site on Eastern Ave. That wasn’t a secret either.

    Q. But one wasn’t conditional on the other.

    A. We’ve executed a lease.

    Q. So the two are separate?

    A. Well, I’ll tell you, more people than us have linked it. Even the last city motion –

    Q. I’m asking you. There was never any link between those two. Are you now saying that if you can’t dispose of the Eastern Ave. site, you don’t have the financial capability of building Filmport?

    [Clamour from councillors]

    A. Our company has the financial wherewithal. If you’re going to ask me would it be financially prudent for somebody to go out and build a monster home without having a plan to sell the old one, that doesn’t sound like a financially viable plan.

    Q. Sounds like you’re tying the two together. I get the impression that he has to dispose of the lands because he doesn’t have the financial –

    A. I didn’t say that.

    [More clamouring with councillors and chair]

    Q. Well, it’s on tape, so it’s all reserved [sic].

    Fletcher: It’s my understanding that this report is dealing with 9 acres, the A.R. Clarke site.

    A. That’s not my understanding. [All 18 acres.] As you know, we have land that’s vacant now.

    Q. The report covers the entire 18.6 acres, not the site that’s sitting vacant?

    A. Yes, the address, 629, is the Film Studio, and 633 and 675 are the vacant A.R. Clarke plant.

    Q. And… so… are there any uses… would you entertain a big-box store on the A.R. Clarke site? Is that a fair question or an unfair question?

    A. Well, it’s certainly something that this report speaks to. I… I would say it’s not our preferred use.

    Q. Well, your preferred use is residential.

    A. Our preferred use is mixed use, which includes residential [office, and other].

    Q. In the summer, in discussing Filmport, I head you saying you would be keeping the Eastern Ave. studios open as long as they are economically viable. How do you jibe that with the 18.6 acre rezoning?

    A. In the zoning that we’ve applied for here, we’re asking for additional uses to the existing industrial uses that are there. It wouldn’t mean that we would immediately redevelop the part of the site that is operating as Toronto Film Studios. Obviously we would like to develop something on the vacant lands that we have owned since 2001 [while we build Filmport]. Overt time, the balance of the lands would be available for morphing to other uses or redeveloping for other uses.

    Q. What do you call “for some time”? What is your notion of “for some time”?

    A. Well, it’s going to take us, at the pace of redevelopment and so forth, it’s going to take us at least till the end of 2007 to get Phase I open. We’ve undertaken again and again not to close Eastern until Phase I is open. [“I’d like to be in the big studio but I’ll take the old one”] is not good for the city. You don’t want a white elephant on the waterfront. At some point when I run out of studios, you want me to build more and more studios down at Filmport and not keep the old ones running.

    [Chair asks people to focus on zoning, not Filmport.]

    Fletcher: Was there ever any discussion with anybody – never mind, because that’s related to the other unmentionable. I’ll address that in my remarks. Thank you.

    Ferguson leaves the speaker’s chair 2006.02.07 17:57.

Fletcher calls for questions of staff – heights, keeping Eastern Ave. open.

Q. Does this report cover 18.6 acres or 9 acres? Are you discussing the whole site?

A. Yes. Their present application, which we are recommending refusal of, covers the whole site. The applicant, and us, quite frankly, would like to see a comprehensive plan for the whole 18 acres.

Q. So there’s no notion of Phase I or Phase II here?

A. I expect there will be some notion of phasing, yes, since the 10 acres is vacant right now and could be built faster.

Q. Were there any conditions of any kind that the area had to be redeveloped in order to move forward with other projects with the city?

A. That’s never been my understanding. We have an obligation to deal with the merits of the application before us, and that this is how we’ve been treating the application before us, which we are recommending refusal [of], and any revisions the applicant may show us.

Q. Heights?

A. Only applies to within 36.6m of Eastern Ave., where the height limit is 18m.

Q. And that includes Lake Shore [where there is no height limit].

A. That’s correct.

Q. Big-box?

A. Zoned I2D5 at present. The zoning does not permit retail uses, nor does it permit residential use. The new Official Plan… will make a provision for retail uses in employment districts such as this one that border an arterial road such as Lake Shore or Eastern Ave.

Q. Studio uses?

A. Permitted right now.

Q. Incentives in Toronto right now?

A. We don’t have any in this district right now, but have been asked to report on financial incentives. We intend to refer to this district in hat report. We will be looking at financial incentives for this district along with area-area incentives.

Motion

Fletcher moves the staff report and moves the creation of a working committee: And I want to assure any of the deputants that it will be a very broad one, encompassing a very broad discussion across three meetings. This whole notion of zoning and land use and how the land’s being used have to be cleared up. I would have to say that we’re a little disturbed to hear that we’re looking at 18.6 acres rather than just the 9, and earlier this year we had a picture come that showed action and activity on just the 9 acres but not across the whole 18.6 acres. That means where the studio sits, and given to their last breath, and I would like to push that out as far as possible…. Retention of affordable studio space within the Studio District as also coming back as part of this report. [Yes, she rambled.]

Motion carried.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.02.09 16:40. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2006/02/09/rezoning/

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