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Former Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat to run for mayor

Move comes after Premier Ford announces intention to cut size of city council

Former Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat to run for mayor

Former chief planner of Toronto Jennifer Keesmaat has joined the race to replace incumbent Mayor John Tory.

Keesmaat confirmed to the Toronto Star on Friday that she was running as she joined a line of people queued up to register for council elections at city hall.

“There are times that we need to stand up for our city,” Keesmaat told reporters after registering. “I am running for mayor because I believe we need bold ideas in this city. We need bold leadership.”

“Bold ideas can make our city even more livable.”

The move comes shortly after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that he will be slashing the size of city council from 47 to 25 seats. The change — if the requisite legislation passes at Queen’s Park next week — is intended to reflect federal and provincial riding boundaries.

Tory is calling for a referendum to be held before the October 22 election to ask if voters want to cut the size of council. The deadline for a referendum question to be put on this year’s ballot has already passed, according to provincial rules.

In the aftermath of Ford’s decision and Tory’s statement, Keesmaat tweeted, “The public was asked. The city ran an extensive public consultation process before realigning Ward boundaries – a process that was challenged and upheld by the courts. Ignoring this outcome is inherently anti-democratic.”

She also publicly mused about Toronto seceding from the rest of the province on social media, tweeting, “Why should a city of 2.8 million not have self governance?”

Keesmaat is the first major challenger to Tory in the race, after Blayne Lastman, the son of former mayor Mel Lastman, decided not to run earlier this week.

Keesmaat resigned her post as chief planner in August 2017 because of disagreements with Tory. Since then, she joined the University of Toronto for part of the academic year as a graduate lecturer in the geography department.

Since March 2018, she has also served as the chief executive officer of the Creative Housing Society, an independent non-profit group focusing on affordable housing projects.

City Council opposes U of T bid for Spadina-Sussex residence

University’s appeal to Ontario Municipal Board rejected based on heritage, height concerns

City Council opposes U of T bid for Spadina-Sussex residence

On October 2, Toronto City Council adopted recommendations by city staff to oppose the university’s application at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to amend zoning bylaws in order to build a residence on the northwest corner of Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue. The motion passed during the review of the Order Paper; it was passed with consent and no debate from council.

The accompanying report by city staff criticized the proposed residence, saying that it is not consistent with provincial plans and that the 23-storey building “is not appropriate for its context as it is too tall, too bulky, and does not provide appropriate tower setbacks.”

The university recently published a report as part of its application to amend the St. George Secondary Plan, which projects a need for 2,300 new beds by 2020 to meet the increased demand for student housing.

Christine Burke, Director of Campus and Facilities Planning, said that this urgent need for residence spaces motivated the appeal to the OMB. “We heard [the community’s] concerns and we made adjustments to the project,” Burke explained, “but we did put in an application in October of last year and with more than three years of consultation, we felt that we needed to move the project along towards a resolution so we could move the project forward.”

The report further elaborates that the proposed demolition of 698 Spadina conflicted with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. 698 Spadina was designated a heritage resource by the city in March 2017, approximately seven months after the university had submitted its application to the city.

The university objected to the designation and has brought the issue to the province’s Conservation Review Board, a tribunal that is able to make recommendations to the municipal council or the tourism minister to repeal heritage designations. Burke said that the university does not believe the site has heritage value based on the findings of heritage consultants retained by the university.

A prehearing conference was held in July, and party status was granted to the Harbord Village Residents’ Association. The report claims that the prehearing was adjourned for four months  “to allow for public consultation and settlement discussions,” though according to Burke, there have been no settlement discussions. “Essentially, the university is seeking to resolve this appeal together with the OMB appeal, so in more of a comprehensive settlement,” Burke said.

The report also raises concerns over the possible intrusion of the building into the silhouette of 1 Spadina Crescent as seen from the southwest and southeast corners of College Street and Spadina.

The report marks bicycle parking as inadequate; current bylaws require a minimum of 238 long-term bicycle parking spaces for the proposed development. The current plan allows for only 116 long-term spaces.

Burke contends that the bylaws do not have bicycle parking standards specific to student residences. “So what we did with our transportation consultants in planning the residence is… we took a comprehensive study of the demand generated at other student residences that we own and operate to try and understand and figure out what the… appropriate parking rate would be and that’s what we applied to the project.” Burke also added that the St. George Secondary Plan had “substantially” more bicycle parking spaces than required.

The university has requested that the OMB conduct a mediation to settle this conflict. The first prehearing is scheduled for January 2018, where an assessment will be done to identify all parties for the mediation.

In the meantime, the university has other plans to add more residence spaces. Burke said the university is looking to extend Graduate House along Harbord Street and to provide more student family housing in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood.

Even with the rising opposition against the Spadina-Sussex project, Burke remains “optimistic” that a settlement will be reached, hoping that “it’s just a matter of time.” Burke also maintained that the university remains committed to its guarantee of providing residence spaces to first-year undergraduates.