City looks at denying condo developers permits to block sidewalks, traffic lanes

City staff will look into denying condo developers permission to block a lane of traffic, sidewalk or bicycle lane during construction, unless they can prove they have no other choice.

The city’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee voted to make the request.

Coun. Josh Matlow says he has repeatedly asked city staff if private developers could be denied access to public rights of way, which they often use as staging areas for construction sites.

He says often when a condo development breaks ground, a lane of traffic is closed for years.

“Torontonians, every day, whether you drive a car ride a bike or take transit or walk, are inconvenienced,” he said. “[Developers] get the allowance to occupy our roads, bike lanes and sidewalks for often two or three years at a time. They make a lot of money. We’re left with an interrupted city.”

Matlow says the loss of public rights of way during construction periods doesn’t just cause congestion, but could be affecting public safety, as people dart into traffic to get around construction hoarding or because sidewalks are blocked.

The death of Evangeline Lauroza, 54, might be seen as an example. Lauroza was struck by a truck near a construction site at Erskine Avenue north of Eglinton Avenue near Yonge Street last October. Matlow was one of three city councillors to call for safety improvements for pedestrians and drivers near construction sites in the area.

Pooja Sharma lives near Richmond and John streets, where lines of condos are going up and one lane has been closed for months.

“I drive through on the street every day. Getting out of the parking lot, and then having to change lanes to get out of here is a nightmare,” she said.

Sharma says crossing the road can be treacherous.

Pooja Sharma, who lives near the construction zone at Richmond and John streets, says driving in the area is a headache. She’s also seen dangerous situations for pedestrians who find their way blocked by heavy equipment. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

“A few months ago, they had some pretty heavy machinery on that side and people, pedestrians, we’re literally walking right past by. Like, that can’t be safe for sure.”

On Thursday, Matlow asked the Infrastructure and Environment Committee to consider the implications of a new right-of-way occupancy permit policy that defaults to a denial of requests, except when the developer proves that no other options are available.

Coun. Josh Matlow says developers inconvenience the public by occupying rights of way without being asked if it’s entirely necessary. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

Matlow, who represents Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul’s, proposed the motion with the support of committee member Coun. Mike Layton, who represents Ward 11, University-Rosedale.

“I think the communities need to know that we have their best interests and concerns top of mind and not only those of the developers,” said Layton.

“And I think that by starting at a place of denial and having [developers] demonstrate to us that there’s a need for this … benefits the community in the end.”

Layton added that the city’s chief planner’s report said losing a lane of traffic is sometimes a necessity.and sometimes it also helps speed a project up.

“When we have a housing emergency like we do … We want to help get these buildings built faster,” he said, adding the loss of one lane on Bathurst Street will shave two years off the construction time for the new Mirvish Village project.

Lane closures at Richmond Street West and University Avenue due to watermain replacement. Between private development and public infrastructure repairs and improvements, there are few streets without some restrictions. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

“Yes, [the developer] makes money faster, but we get 900 rental units, 100 of which are affordable, faster too. There is a little bit of give and take here.”

Mayor John Tory said he is supportive of the intent of the motion, but that any new restrictions would have to be put in place in a responsible way.

“We dramatically increase the fees that are charged to developers in the hopes that this would cause them to use less space for a shorter period of time.”

Right now, a permit to block a right of way can cost in the range from $2,500 to $4,000.

Coun. Mike Layton says he supports Matlows motion, but says the needs of the public and developers can be balanced. (Ed MIddleton/CBC News)

“You just can’t, you know, kind of do these things off the back of an envelope. You have to do it carefully with a view to allowing growth to happen in the city in a responsible way,” Tory said.

The motion will now go before city council at the next meeting at the end of January.


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