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First framed as a plan to reimagine cities 'from the internet up,' with new technologies from both Sidewalk and third-party companies to make city living better, the plan and timeline for Quayside has gradually changed shape in the past 19 months.

/The Canadian Press

Torontonians will have to wait even longer to find out if a Google affiliate’s proposed smart-city development will be built along the waterfront, according to a new report from a deputy city manager.

The report, released Monday, reveals that a crucial vote by Waterfront Toronto’s board of directors on the controversial project, scheduled for September, is likely to be delayed by three months or more. A stalled vote would likely add to the growing criticism surrounding Sidewalk and Waterfront’s ambitious urban-planning project, dubbed Quayside.

First framed as a plan to reimagine cities “from the internet up,” with new technologies from both Sidewalk and third-party companies to make city living better, the plan and timeline for Quayside has gradually changed shape in the past 19 months, as concerns mounted about privacy and data collection in such a sensor-filled community. Groups of activists, academics, representatives from all three levels of government and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have since come out against the project

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Waterfront Toronto announced in October, 2017, that Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Sidewalk Labs had been selected as a partner to explore a digital-centric development on the eastern downtown shore of Lake Ontario. Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff has said in several public appearances that a draft version of the final agreement, to be called the “master innovation and development plan,” or MIDP, would be delivered to Waterfront some time in June. Waterfront would then release it to the public within a week before consulting the public on its details.

According to the most recent public contract between the two parties, both must approve the MIDP by the end of September, 2019. But the municipal report released Monday, authored by Tracey Cook, Toronto’s deputy city manager for infrastructure and development services, says that final Waterfront approval – which would require a vote by its government-appointed board of directors – is not expected by the city until late 2019 or early 2020. After that, the report says, city staff would report to council’s executive committee by the end of June, 2020, with final details left for city-council approval.

Sidewalk and Waterfront has regularly responded to public concerns by saying that specific details about technology and data collection would be revealed with the MIDP, which itself would be reshaped with input from the public before either party voted to proceed with the deal.

A Waterfront Toronto spokesperson confirmed that it would likely delay the September vote to make time for roughly six months of further public consultation after the MIDP is made public. The agency said it had initially hoped to spend that amount of time consulting on the MIDP, though its own publication has been delayed. “What we have consistently heard through public consultations is the desire for a full extensive and transparent evaluation process,” said spokesperson Andrew Tumilty in a phone interview. “We want to ensure that … the process still has time to run.”

Toronto council’s executive committee is expected to discuss the Quayside report on Thursday. “The Executive Committee meeting on Thursday marks the beginning of a new stage in our ongoing engagement with Torontonians,” said Sidewalk spokesperson Keerthana Rang in an e-mail. “In the coming weeks we will formally submit our proposal to Waterfront Toronto for review. We look forward to presenting our vision for Toronto’s waterfront and to continuing conversations with residents to make sure we get this right.”

Ms. Cook also acknowledged some critics’ concerns in her report, including that Sidewalk hoped to develop beyond the initial 12-acre Quayside site. She wrote that the city would need to spend up to $800,000 to assess and consult on the project this year, including $200,000 for public consultations.

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