City of Toronto releases updated St. George Secondary Plan report

Councillor Joe Cressy proposes amendments to enforce conformity with zoning laws

City of Toronto releases updated St. George Secondary Plan report

A municipal staff status report to City Council is recommending that new developments within UTSG prioritize pedestrians and cyclists, adhere to distinct attributes of newly proposed “Character Areas,” and preserve existing heritage buildings while expanding open and public spaces.

The report is a part of the City of Toronto’s Secondary Plan for UTSG, which provides a planning framework to manage changes and new developments on campus. It outlines specific policies on how the land can be used and how future projects should be laid out.

Two amendments to the status report proposed by Councillor Joe Cressy of Ward 20 Trinity—Spadina were also passed at the Toronto and East York Community Council, which represents the area that UTSG is located in. The amendments were passed without discussion on July 4.

One of the changes requested that city staff report on U of T properties adjacent to the campus, and to report “on the controls that are necessary to ensure conformity with existing Neighbourhood zoning.”

Cressy’s second amendment also requested city staff report on ways to enforce zoning rules, and it stated that “if/when the University acquires property in adjacent neighbourhoods that any exemptions… are not transferred with the University’s title to their off-campus neighbourhood holdings.”

This amendment effectively means that any exemptions U of T currently has with regards to zoning will not be applied to any future developments outside of existing UTSG boundaries.

The status report is the second preliminary report completed by city officials. The Toronto and East York Community Council initially adopted a motion to begin public consultation on the Secondary Plan in early 2017.

The new Secondary Plan was proposed with the goal of developing the areas in and around the university with flexibility — in other words, preserving historically significant buildings while adapting to the institution’s growing needs.

Community responses

When contacted by The Varsity, Cressy said the Secondary Plan was still in its preliminary stages and the final report has not yet been submitted, with consultations still ongoing.

“The Secondary Plan and all the details will be coming back in the new year and so there are questions outstanding related to properties outside of the Secondary Plan area,” he said. “As part of the Secondary Plan review, we want staff to report on whether those mechanisms are needed or not.”

Cressy said that he’s met with the university to consult on the plan approximately 20 times, and that the plan has undergone an “extensive process.”

“I think there were vast, vast improvements in how the university is considering issues like heritage protection, public realm, movements, and walkability,” said Cressy. “In many ways the St. George campus holds some of the best public realm and green spaces in all of the city and it’s a jewel.”

Christine Burke, U of T Director of Campus and Facilities Planning, said that the university wasn’t consulted on the amendments.

“We haven’t responded because those are items that will come up in the next few months and when it comes before [the Toronto and East York Community Council] and council,” said Burke. “But no, the university wasn’t consulted on the amendments and we haven’t discussed them with the city at this time, but we’re happy to do so. We don’t anticipate any impact whatsoever from these additional resolutions.”

Cressy added, “We want to ensure that as the city continues to grow, that collectively the university and the city can benefit from this historic campus.”

According to Burke, the next step for U of T is to start receiving details about the plan from city planning staff. The final report is expected in early 2019.

Annex residents speak out against fraternities

“Numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” among cited issues

Annex residents speak out against fraternities

Fraternity and sorority housing may face significant licensing requirements changes by the end of the month. As The Varsity previously reported, the city’s Executive Committee will review whether or not to remove the multi-tenant housing licensing exemption from fraternity and sorority houses. If the change proposed by Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy is approved, then Greek houses around U of T may be shut down if they do not successfully secure a multi-tenant housing license.

Residents push for action

Cressy’s move to have the Executive Committee address the role of fraternities and sororities came on June 5, and it was supported by letters from the heads of the Annex Residents’ Association, Bay Cloverhill Community Association, Grange Community Association, Harbord Village Residents’ Association, and the Huron Sussex Residents’ Organization.

Following repeated incidents going unpunished, Sterns wrote a letter to Mayor Tory about the issue on June 15. The letter listed several cases of inappropriate conduct on behalf of the fraternity houses residing in the Annex, including a police raid confiscating over $125,000 worth of drugs in 2008, the death of a young man who fell from a window of Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in 2013, and the stabbing of three people outside of a frat party in 2015.

Following the 2011 decision, Sterns expressed skepticism of any more collaborative promises on behalf of fraternities and sororities, and urged the Mayor to support Cressy’s efforts to get rid of the licensing exemption.

The Executive Committee will address the situation on September 26; executives from the University of Toronto Students’ Union are expected to speak.

Greeks dodge licensing in 2011

Former Ward 20 City Councillor Adam Vaughan advocated for the removal of fraternity and sorority houses’ licensing exemption back in 2011 for reasons similar to Cressy’s. “The idea is simply to find a way to say to the ones that are holding parties at 4 o’clock in the morning where they’re peeing on people’s cars and doing all kinds of bizarre stuff in the parks, could you just please get on with your neighbours?” Vaughan told the National Post in 2011. “Find a way to help us help you grow up.”

There were certain obstacles that Vaughan faced in accomplishing this task, though, laid out in the staff report requested by the Licensing and Standards Committee at the time.

Specifically, there were two hindrances that kept the committee from bringing forward a licensing proposal. The first was that, according to the staff report, the city “does not have the authority to license people or organizations purely on the basis of their affiliation,” meaning that since a fraternity or sorority does not fall specifically under one classification, it is difficult to define how it should be licensed.

The second reason was that licenses cannot limit the behaviour of tenants. While a license would require the building to be fully up to code, issues that may arise related to behaviour would not be regulated.

Vaughan met representatives of the fraternities and sororities at the time and attempted to establish a collaborative system, as recommended in the staff report, resulting in the Joint Working Group meant to address neighborhood complaints. The working group took the approach of allowing fraternity and sorority houses to rely upon their organizations for regulation and enforcement, as fraternities and sororities have rules for any affiliated chapters. Despite this, complaints continue to be filed to the Annex Residents’ Association, and residents say they have had a hard time getting in touch with anyone of influence in the fraternity community.

Concerned residents speak to The Varsity

Permanent residents of the Annex — the neighbourhood home to many of the Greek life houses in Toronto — have expressed concerns about noise pollution, littering, and general disturbances coming from fraternities much more so than sororities.

David Harrison, chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, said that they “get a steady stream of complaints from neighbours of the Fraternities. There are three or four frequent offenders. The Sororities are generally much better behaved.”

Rita Bilerman, a resident of the Annex for 11 years, said she has had multiple experiences dealing with fraternities. Bilerman alleged there have been “numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” attributed to fraternities in the time she’s lived in the Annex. She said she is concerned that if the houses are allowed to continue on as they are, there is the potential for real tragedy. She recounted stories of fraternity members sitting atop the roofs of houses, daring each other to run naked past oncoming traffic, and passing out on her front yard.

In addition, Bilerman has kids — the oldest of which is a high school student. She said that fraternity houses in the area have invited her son to parties, and, according to Bilerman, plenty of high school students attend these parties, some of which she claimed serves alcohol to minors.

Mayor Tory’s office is refraining from commenting on the issue until the full staff report is completed.

The Inter-Fraternity Council, a representative body of 10 fraternities around U of T, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

Data compiled by Tom Yun