OMB hearing over Leslieville big-box project pits seniors against children

OMB hearing over Leslieville big-box project pits seniors against children

Yesterday morning’s Ontario Municipal Board hearings on the proposal for a SmartCentres retail complex in Leslieville were dedicated to deputations from members of the general public. Anyone who wanted to put his or her thoughts on the record was welcome to do so. A total of 18 people spoke. The final score: anti-SmartCentres 14, pro-SmartCentres 4. According to SmartCentres land development manager Fraser Smith, that’s a closer margin than you usually get at an OMB hearing. “It’s very rare for the Ontario Municipal Board to hear positive sentiments for a development proposal,” he said. But more interesting than the final score were the arguments themselves, which suggested that this battle is turning into a generation-gap fight. The proceedings even featured real, live kids and old folks used as props.

On the nay side, one deputant insisted that a Wal-Mart in the neighbourhood would be bad for children, while another brought her daughter to the stand with her. On the yea side, one person said Wal-Mart would be good for seniors, and she brought proof: a group of elderly Chinese ladies sitting in the gallery who held up their hands when they were asked whether or not they wanted a new shopping mall in the area. Another yea speaker, Nancy Hawley, had no groupies in the peanut gallery but declared that seniors wanted a Wal-Mart. This prompted the lawyer for the residents’ association Eric Gillespie, to point out that Wal-Mart has not even declared its intention to be part of the development. Hawley said she knew that, but nevertheless, she thought “the seniors would like one.”

It was a telling exchange. It’s tempting to call Wal-Mart the elephant in the OMB’s hearing room, but that expression is used to describe the thing that everyone sees but no one dares to talk about. Wal-Mart was all anyone could talk about yesterday. And it was fascinating talk, but it was ultimately pointless. This OMB hearing is about a proposed retail development, not which companies may or may not eventually become its tenants. In terms of politics, Wal-Mart looms large in this case. In terms of legalities, Wal-Mart is a red herring. And legalities are the OMB’s primary concern.

There will be more public deputations on Monday night. Any speakers hoping to sway the OMB’s decision, whether for or against SmartCentres, should stick to the merits and drawbacks of the case. Leave Wal-Mart out of it.

Leslieville resident begs board not to ‘throw away’ neighbourhood [The Globe and Mail]• Vision collision at OMB [Toronto Star]