The political will is waning for Mayor Rob Ford’s vision for the Port Lands as members of his inner circle work to broker a deal before next week’s council meeting, and public opposition mounts to the plan that would put a Ferris wheel and mega-mall at the mouth of the Don River.
Peter Milczyn, a supporter of the mayor, is trying to steer the debate away from the lavish conceptual drawings presented last week at City Hall and praised by the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford.
“The way this has unfolded is not the way it should have unfolded,” Mr. Milczyn told The Globe and Mail on Thursday. “There were a lot of carts being put before the horses here.”
Talk by Councillor Ford of jaw-dropping plans, long before any drawings were made public, has created a “distraction” from the real issue – the cost of developing the site and the need to speed up that process, he said.
The vision of the mayor and his brother, reflected in the drawings commissioned by a city agency without the public’s knowledge, has quickly become a lightning rod for opposition to any move to alter the existing plans for the 180-hectare site on the eastern harbour. The existing plans envision a mixed-use community around a restored natural outlet for the Don River and include an extensive riverside park.
Opposition expanded Thursday with a group of 147 leading academics, urban designers and architects issuing an open letter denouncing the mayor’s plan and describing it as “window-dressing for an old-fashioned land deal.”
“Given that our waterfront has always been a working waterfront, it would be a mistake to make it a spectacle,” said urban guru and business professor Richard Florida, one of the letter’s authors.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it – the way it was foisted on the city, the way it was foisted on council,” he said.
Several of the mayor’s supporters also are saying they will be looking for changes before they can back the mayor’s plan – which calls for the city to seize control of redeveloping the former industrial site from Toronto Waterfront, the three-government agency charged with revitalizing the harbour for more than a decade.
In a letter to constituents, Karen Stintz, the chair of the TTC commission, says she will be working on amendments that “will continue to advance the work of Waterfront Toronto” while meeting the mayor’s desire to speed up the pace of development and give the city a more direct hand in planning.
Michael Thompson, another Ford loyalist, said it is clear the public wants to be consulted before any change of direction is taken. “I think it would be prudent to reach a compromise to allow further discussion,” he said. “Quite frankly, it would demonstrate a wise perspective on the mayor’s part to show that he is open and willing to listen to Torontonians.”
The remarks come one day after executive committee member Jaye Robinson broke ranks with the mayor, saying she could not support the plan.
Councillor Ford refused to talk about the waterfront with reporters on Wednesday.
Mr. Milczyn, an architect who many point to as an obvious player in a compromise, said given the huge size of the Port Lands, there could be room for Waterfront Toronto to continue its work on the Lower Don Lands at the mouth of the Don River and have the city fast-track projects in the section to the east – a vast area that includes the shipping channel and Cherry Street and extends to Leslie Street. That job could be given to Toronto Port Lands Co., the city agency favoured by the mayor and his brother to oversee development.
“There is a lot of opportunity for Waterfront Toronto to continue doing what it does and potentially for Toronto Port Lands to step up and do more,” he said.
With opposition growing, Paul Bedford, the city’s former head of planning and another author of the protest letter, urged citizens to tell their councillors to support nothing less than the existing Waterfront Toronto plan. “My advice is stay the course,” he said. “No compromise.”