Google affiliate Sidewalks Labs LLC and development agency Waterfront Toronto have reached an agreement that would allow them to scrap Sidewalk’s plans for a high-tech Toronto neighbourhood by the end of October if concerns about the project aren’t resolved.
On Wednesday, the organizations amended their plan-development agreement to allow Waterfront Toronto’s board to terminate the arrangement and the relationship on Oct. 31 if they cannot reach a consensus on the project’s scale, the lead developer, commitments from government, and data and privacy policies.
The deadline stems from concerns Waterfront Toronto raised in late June, when Sidewalk Labs unveiled its 1,524-page draft plan for the eastern shore of Toronto’s harbour, 20 months after the organizations agreed to create a 12-acre community called Quayside together.
The draft plan showed Sidewalk Labs wanted to be involved in developing a parcel of land 16 times that size. Waterfront Toronto board chair Stephen Diamond wrote a letter to Sidewalk Labs calling the new scope of the proposal “premature.”
“Waterfront Toronto must first see its goals and objectives achieved at Quayside before deciding whether to work together in other areas,” he wrote.
The groups are at odds because Sidewalk wants to be the project’s lead developer, while Waterfront Toronto prefers a public procurement process, and over Sidewalk’s demand for governments to expand public transit in the area. Waterfront also has concerns about performance bonuses that would be paid to Sidewalk, and the need to rewrite municipal and provincial laws for the project to move forward. Waterfront Toronto says such requests are outside its power.
“Waterfront Toronto has been clear that there are elements of the [plan] that require commitments that we are not in a position to make," Waterfront Toronto spokesman Andrew Tumilty said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. "In some areas, the [plan] also goes beyond what we sought or required in the [request for proposals].
“Come October, Waterfront Toronto will evaluate where we stand, and determine what direction is in the best interest of the people of Toronto, and the Quayside project.”
On top of a termination deadline, Mr. Tumilty said Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto decided to extend the plan development agreement to March 31, 2020, to give the organizations more time to prepare. The original expiry date was Sept. 30, 2019. Since the draft plan was released, Waterfront Toronto has played host to public meetings to solicit concerns and opinions about the development.
Sidewalk Labs spokeswoman Keerthana Rang said in an e-mail to The Globe that the decision to extend the plan and set a deadline was “joint” and “a practical matter.”
“It made sense to create a deadline for the resolution of major outstanding issues before significant parts of that evaluation process commence,” she said.
The amendments come a week after Waterfront Toronto’s design review panel – a group of community-building experts – voted to give conditional support to the first phase of the Quayside plan, which involves developing blocks on the north side of Queens Quay, west of Small Street, which is south of the Gardiner Expressway near Parliament Street.
The panel voted not to support part of the plan involving three areas Sidewalk is calling Parliament Plaza, Parliament Slip and Silo Park.
“The project does not currently meet planning, policy and/or design excellence objectives,” said a Waterfront Toronto blog post on the vote. It also noted Sidewalk’s plan lacks “a detailed retail strategy on Queen’s Quay” and said the panel has concerns about the flexible ground-floor spaces Sidewalk has proposed.
Sidewalk says it appreciates the feedback from the panel and will have more opportunities to go before it and address the concerns.
But a group opposed to the plan said the latest developments mean “Sidewalk Labs is on its way out.”
“This shows that there is a lot of feedback and a lot of negative concerns raised by the [draft plan],” said Thorben Wieditz, a spokesman for BlockSidewalk, which orchestrated a petition to lobby against the project.
“We certainly hope that we’re going to end up in a situation where Sidewalk Labs will be sent home, and we can reset the process."