An Ontario Superior Court judge has denied the Toronto District School Board's bid for a zoning exemption that would have allowed a private company to operate a recreational facility at one of its high schools.
The decision, released Friday, could potentially jeopardize the school board's plans to enter into private partnerships and build a handful of championship fields at other schools. Many local residents fear that these private facilities on public land would limit their access to school grounds before and after classes and during the summer.
The TDSB had asked Justice David Corbett to overturn the city's decision and allow Razor Management to build and operate a $6-million sports field, which includes a seasonal dome, at Central Technical School, near Bathurst and Harbord streets.
The city argued that the new construction on TDSB land did not qualify for the "teaching or instructional purposes" bylaw exemption. The courts agreed.
"Commercial exploitation of TDSB facilities is not a 'school use' of TDSB premises," Justice Corbett wrote in his decision. He said that the bylaw exemption calls for "incidental use" of school land for purposes other than education or instruction. "The proposal falls well across the line of 'incidental use' of TDSB facilities for commercial purposes. It is not covered by the exemption," he wrote, calling the city's decision "reasonable."
The TDSB was not available for comment on Friday.
A favourable court decision for the school board could have meant that it would be able to build these facilities without any approval from the city or input from the community. The Central Tech proposal is the second of six domed facilities the TDSB wants to construct.
The TDSB has also appealed the city's decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. A hearing has not as yet been scheduled.
The school board had planned to enter into a 21-year lease agreement with Razor to create and maintain a facility for soccer, football and other field sports at Central Tech. A dome would cover the sports field and track during the winter. Central Tech students would have use of the facility on weekdays during the school year. Razor would have exclusive use during the evening hours and all day on weekends and receive all revenue. Five per cent of the time was to be provided free to community groups.
A similar deal between Razor and the TDSB for a facility at Monarch Park Collegiate, near Coxwell and Danforth avenues, was given the go-ahead a few years ago. The TDSB leased the facility for $1 a year to Razor, according to the licence agreement obtained by The Globe and Mail.
Some residents around Central Tech opposed the proposed facility, saying they were concerned about reduced community access to the field and traffic congestion.
Justice Corbett noted those concerns in his decision. "There may be concerns about its overall impact on the character of the neighbourhood. There are obvious benefits to enhanced athletic facilities at a high school. And there are obviously benefits to having and encouraging the use of recreational facilities by the general public," he wrote. "But just because there may be benefits does not mean that legitimate planning concerns should not be addressed through the usual process."
Toronto Councillor Mike Layton, who represents the adjacent ward, said the decision reinforces the fact that the city has jurisdiction over land use.
Mr. Layton said some local residents favour the project, but "a majority of folks don't like the idea of systematically losing green space."
"The board has taken the position that it is the board's space, but, look, I grew up playing pickup football on that exact space. Once we turn it over, dome or no dome, you would now be almost permanently taking that field away from public use, " he said.