Comments from Jaan Pill regarding August 2017 Long Branch Character Guidelines draft

My previous comments, regarding an earlier, February 2017 version of the Long Branch Character Guidelines draft, are at a post entitled:

Input from Jaan Pill of Preserved Stories regarding Feb. 7, 2017 Long Branch Guidelines Draft

My current comments address the more recent, August 2017 version of the Guidelines draft.

The latter draft, on which my comments are based, is accessible at:

August 2017 DRAFT Long Branch Neighbourhood Character Guidelines

Distortion of everyday language

My central comment is that a noteworthy feature of urban planning in Long Branch, in recent years, entails a consistent and wide-ranging distortion of everyday language.

Such a distortion – and debasement – of language has led to a situation in which, at Committee of Adjustment and Ontario Municipal Board meetings, in a large proportion of decisions, the word “Major” is interchangeable with the word “Minor.”

The distortion of language, as it relates to urban planning, has given rise to an ongoing state of affairs in which a growing body of case law has been constructed, at the Ontario Municipal Board.

The case law reinforces, and guides, the incremental distortion of language, as it applies to urban planning, in neighbourhoods such as Long Branch and Alderwood.

It would, in response to such a state of affairs, be highly valuable if the Guidelines were to spell out, in detail, and in the visual language of urban design, what a “Minor” variance would really look like, in the context of of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Character Guidelines.

I would not recommend leaving the interpretation of the Guidelines, as they stand in the current draft, for members of the Committee of Adjustment, the Ontario Municipal Board, and the Toronto Local Appeal Body, to figure out on their own.

Without specific directions, from what I have observed over the years, CofA and OMB members will in a majority of cases – and with notable, but few, exceptions – leave their decisions to “professional judgement.”

The latter term, from what I can gather, from observing many meetings, serves as code for subjective understanding, or personal preference – in many cases, in the absence of, or in disregard of, relevant evidence.

The concept of evidence-based practice does not, except in rare and inspiring cases, appear to be a standard feature of this form of professional judgement, from what I have observed, over a period of many years.

Clear and consistent direction from managers of policy initiatives

As a rule, in my experience as an observer, and as a participant-observer, input from residents is (with rare exceptions) consistently disregarded, when matters of professional judgement come into play.

Without a focused plan regarding implementation of the Guidelines, and a way to judge the success of said implementation, the document is likely, from what I have anecdotally observed, to have limited impact on the quality of land-use decision making.

The provision of clear and consistent direction – specifically, for CofA and related decision makers – from the managers of policy initiatives, such as the Long Branch Guidelines project, is imperative, in order to rebuild public respect for decision-making processes at the City of Toronto.

Currently, based on what I have anecdotally observed, the respect is not there.

The alternative is a loss of interest, among otherwise enthusiastic residents, in civic engagement, as it relates to land-use planning.

A lack of engagement stands to further erode the social fabric that serves as a foundation for a flourishing and vibrant city.

Lack of genuine civic engagement also stands to give rise to the build-up of anger, and the mobilization of it by authoritarian politicians who, once elected, have no concern for democratic niceties.

There are other reasons that people get angry, but the anger that relates to a lack of civic engagement – that is, situations where the reality of citizen input strongly contradicts the rhetoric – can be reduced, given a will to change the culture related to urban planning in Toronto.

For many years, I have been following the success of civic engagement in Mississauga, as it relates to heritage preservation and land-use planning along the waterfront.

What I have seen, and documented at my website, has convinced me that, with sufficient political will, a match between rhetoric and reality, as it relates to citizen input, is readily obtainable – if the required conditions are in place.

Numbers-based visual examples

It would be highly valuable if the Guidelines were to spell out what the relevant quantitative – that is, numbers-based – variables are, with regard to the distinction between “Minor”and “Major” variances.

By way of example, a diagram, for a given feature of the Guidelines, would show – by way of visual illustrations – what a Minor variance would look like.

For example, it might be an image related to Setbacks, in which, say, 3 out of 4 character-reinforcing elements are represented visually.

With 3 out of 4 criteria in place – as visually represented in a diagram – a given visual example would serve as an example of a Minor variance.

Conversely, a Major variance might be illustrated as a visual example in which, say, 3 out of 7 character-reinforcing visual elements, for Setbacks or any other element of design, are represented.

Each of the key features of the Guidelines would, under such a scenario, be visually represented, within a quantitative framework. That is, for such and such a situation, if (say) 3 out of 4 criteria are met, as represented in a visual illustration, then that would be a Minor variance.

And if, say, a smaller proportion of criteria, as demonstrated with a suitable illustration, are met, then it’s a Major variance, and would not be permitted.

A protocol of regular assessment and revision

The value of the Guidelines will be determined by how well, and how fully, they are implemented, by decision makers involved with urban planning at the City of Toronto.

For that reason, I support the proposal that the Guidelines should be re-assesed, and if necessary revised, on a regular basis, to ensure they have a clear and demonstrable effect, in close compliance with the Guidelines, on urban-planning decisions that are made, as the years go by.

The descriptor “eclectic,” when used by CofA / OMB decision makers = kiss of death

Under current conditions, when a CofA / OMB decision maker announces that, “We have a street here that is eclectic,” you can be certain that such a statement is the kiss of death for the physical character – at least, that is, as defined in the context of the August 2017 Guidelines draft – of a given streetscape.

So long as we depend upon words such as “eclectic,” the physical character of Long Branch will be a fondly remembered, distant memory, celebrated in some well-researched book project, that some dedicated amateur historian (who will, by that time, be contentedly residing at a leafy, tree-lined street in Stratford, Ontario) will have put together.

Based on my anecdotal experience, in attending a large number of Committee of Adjustment and Ontario Municipal Board hearings over many years, the word “eclectic” serves as a code word for:

“We do hereby affirm, as inevitably we must, that a couple of tall, narrow, and long soldier houses, on the proposed severed lots, will serve as an ideal, commendable Minor variance, in all respects in accord with the Toronto Official Plan and the City of Toronto By-Laws.”

In some pockets of the neighbourhood, the kiss of death has already been bestowed in Long Branch, with a suitable sense of occasion, drama, and finality.

I live on such a street, in such a pocket, and we look forward to moving out. Long-time neighbours of ours, across the street, have already made the move, prior to the upcoming emergence of two soldier houses, on a 45-ft lot, directly to the east of them.

Recordings of Committee of Adjustment meetings

As a person who has been involved, in the context of a local website, with the documentation of local history in South Etobicoke and South Mississauga for many years, I am pleased to know that Committee of Adjustment hearings are now being video recorded.

They are, as I understand from a comment that a local resident has shared with me, available for sale to the public at $40 apiece, on the understanding that the buyer will not permit the copying of them for other residents.

The recording of the May 4, 2017 Etobicoke York Committee of Adjustment meeting is of particular interest. I recommend it highly!

I am also aware that proposed OMB Reform legislation includes a provision for the recording of oral testimony at Local Planning Appeal Tribunals, as outlined at a previous post.

The draft OMB Reform legislation notes (p. 56) that: “All oral evidence submitted before the Tribunal shall be taken down in writing and, together with such documentary evidence and things as are received in evidence by the Tribunal, form the record.”

It is my sincere belief that Guidelines staff would find it of interest to review one or a number of recent recordings, available from the Etobicoke York Committee of Adjustment, in order to get a sense of how decisions, related to Long Branch, are currently addressed.

If there is time to review recordings of Toronto Local Appeal Board hearings, for the same purposes, that would also be valuable, I do sincerely believe.

Notes for July 2017 OMB hearing regarding 14 Villa Road

One of my current projects involves posting, at my website, of my notes of an OMB hearing that took place on July 17 and 18, 2017 regarding a Consent and Variance application for 14 Villa Road.

However, given a tight deadline, with the current Guidelines comments due on Oct. 10, 2017, I will not be able to include said notes in my current comments regarding the Guidelines.

The gist of my detailed notes, which will be posted in the next while, conveys the fact that, in the hands of the OMB, two soldier houses, next to abutting one-story bungalows on each side, qualify eminently as projects that adhere in all respects to the intent and purpose of the Toronto Official Plan.

Consent and Variance applications along Thirty Third St. at Dominion Road

I have for some months been working on a series of posts related to the state of affairs currently emerging along Thirty Third St. at Dominion Road.

Again, given a tight deadline, with the current comments due on Oct. 10, I will not be able to post the current overview, regarding this particular pocket of Long Branch, with its many historical houses and wide lots, by the time of the deadline.

The gist of the message, as it relates to Thirty Third St., is that the August 2017 Guidelines would, from what I can gather, point land-use decision-making in a different direction, than what is currently emerging.

I will post my overview, about this pocket of Long Branch, when time permits.

Institutional drift

With regard to the debasement of language, that I refer to, as it relates to urban planning in Long Branch, it is useful to be aware of the history of institutional drift that has been evident in decades past.

The latter topic – that is, the manner in which COA and OMB decision-making has incrementally changed, with major, and highly deleterious, consequences in recent years – is outlined at a previous post entitled:

Culture of CofA and OMB decision-making has changed dramatically in 25 years: MPP Peter Milczyn

The incremental changes have had – in my anecdotal experience as a blogger, seeking to share accurate and balanced information – a strongly negative impact on the physical character, and social fabric, of the community.

The debasement of language is, I would argue, akin to the process known as gaslighting, in which an attempt is made to question a person’s own, everyday perceptions, concerning the nature of events in everyday life.

The stretching out of shape of language, that I refer to, is equally as destructive, of the social fabric of the community, as the actual physical changes that we have witnessed in recent years.

Quality of communications

I was highly impressed with the fact that the Sept. 26, 2017 Guideline public meeting was superbly well organized.

We could clearly hear SvN staff presentations at the outset, with thanks to the effective use of a microphone.

The participants, representing a wide range of stockholders, also had plenty of time to discuss the August 2017 Guidelines draft, after which a spokesperson from each table briefly outlined, what people at her or his respective table had contributed, by way of comments.

I would like to conclude my comments by referring to a review of a Film Series Premiere that I attended on Oct. 4, 2017 at Humber College:

Well-received, well-attended Mental Health Film Series Premiere at Humber College Lakeshore

I mention this film series because I sincerely believe that a similar format, to the series I have reviewed, would work well as a way to use social media to reach a wide public with the final version of the Long Branch Guidelines.

That is, a series of 10-minute films about the Guidelines, bookended by a similar format (as in the above-noted series) for the introduction and closing segment, of each film, would in my view work really well.

In that context, posting of such a series on YouTube would, I believe, be a great way to proceed, as has been the case with the film series that I have mentioned:

Keys to Our Past: Mental Health Film Series now available on YouTube

The above-noted series has high production values, yet appears to me to have been put together without an enormous budget.

In this production, four highly knowledgeable people, from four separate institutions, spent eight hours discussing the content, of their project.

They then proceeded with the filming, and concluded with first-rate, highly capable editing of the content.

In the event there may be interest, in speaking with the production team – in the event, that is, that there is interest in launching a similar public education / public engagement Guidelines project – a good person to contact is Jennifer Bazar, Ph.D., curator at the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre at Humber College, in New Toronto just east of Long Branch.


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